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article imageOp-Ed: Understanding the Mali Conflict

By Karl Gotthardt     Jan 18, 2013 in Politics
Bamako - The Mali insurgency followed 10 years of US counter-terrorism programs. In spite of big goals to curb terrorism, and enhance regional cooperation and stability, Islamic groups were able to infiltrate Mali, threatening the existence of the democracy.
The current conflict began in January 2012, with the Tuareg rebellion in Northern Mali. The Rebellion was led by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). Amadou Sanogo, a military officer, seized power in March 2012. This resulted in the West African Economic Community to impose sanctions.
This set the stage for the MNLA to take control of the north, declaring independence as Azawad. The Islamist groups that had helped defeat the government, turned on the Tuareg and took control of the North. These groups included Ansar Dine and Al-Qaida, which had the aim to implement Sharia Law in Mali. On 11 January 2013 France intervened at the request of the Mali government.
Insurgencies have tendency to develop mission creep. France started its Mali intervention with 550 combat troops. France's defense minister announced that its troop strength was boosted to 1400. West African nations have pledged to provide 3000 troops, with Chad providing 2000 to fight the insurgency. The first of these troops arrived on Wednesday from Togo and Nigeria.
France launched the operation with air strikes and heavy fighting in Diabaly, approximately 350 km north of the capital.
Insurgency has been a major concern for US administrations and the US implemented counter-insurgency programs as early as 2002, There was concern that Mali would turn into a terrorist state, which was the reason given by France to launch its operation.
In spite of these programs, the insurgency prevailed and Islamic fighters were able to infiltrate the country. The reasons for the failure of these counter-insurgency programs can be attributed to underfunding and to some extend the removal of Qaddafi in Libya.
After the killing of Qaddafi, his weapons were looted and many of them were taken by Mali's Tuareg tribe. These weapons included RPGS, AK-47s, mortars and high-caliber weapons mounted on the back of 4x4s. These same insurgents are believed to be involved in the ongoing Algerian raid as reported by UK Prime Minster David Cameron in his report to the British Parliament today.
With France's current troop strength of 1400 and the additional 3000 West African troops, the troop strength committed to combat operations has already reached 4400. Add to that the troops and aircraft committed to logistics operations, the commitment has already ballooned.
France expected a short intervention, but appears to be struggling. As long as insurgent fighters and their weapons can be infiltrated through Algeria, this appears to be another conflict that could escalate and result in the mission creep, often seen in other countries. Now that the commitment has been made to intervene, it is essential that the right troop strength formula is found, which includes the securing of the Algerian border.
US counter-insurgency programs, in place since 2002, have not been successful, prompting France to intervene in its former colony. A short in and out operation seems to be a pipe dream. Without control of the Algerian/Libya and Algeria/Mali borders insurgents and weapons will continue to flow into Mali.
Western leaders, for obvious reasons, are reluctant to make a commitment for combat troops. With unpredictable insurgent fighters and planners, this could be a lengthy mission.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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