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article imageOp-Ed: French President says Algeria attack justifies Mali intervention

By Ken Hanly     Jan 18, 2013 in World
Bamako - French president Francois Hollande claims that the attack and hostage crisis in the remote desert gas plant in Algeria, shows that the French military intervention in Mali was justified.
In a speech to business leaders Hollande said: "What's happening in Algeria provides further evidence that my decision to intervene in Mali was justified."
Given that the attack and hostage taking came after the French intervention in Mali and that the attackers claimed that it was in response to that intervention, Hollande's argument may seem a bit strange. However, it may very well be that the attack was planned well in advance of the French decision to intervene in Mali. The rebels may simply find the intervention an opportunity to claim the attack is a form of revenge. Militant groups have made a habit of taking hostages and holding them for ransom as a means of raising funds.
French officials may be overly optimistic about the swift success of their mission, claiming that they could very well turn the entire nation of Mali into a terror-free flourishing democracy in a matter of weeks. France thinks that their air strikes have been quite successful. The strikes hit key cities in the north as well as those in the south taken during the rebel advance.
However, as yet, the situation is not that clear. The French and Malian forces seem to have retaken some areas but in other areas the rebels have actually taken more territory. The rebels are much better armed and much better in battle than the French expected. The radical Islamists not only smuggle drugs and cigarettes across borders to finance their projects, they also purchase guns, especially in Libya, from where many of the weapons of the former Gadaffi regime are still filtering out.
France will control the skies and be able to bomb at leisure. However, this may not translate into progress on the ground for some time. The Tuareg were able to drive out the Malian army, and the Islamic rebels were able to dislodge the Tuareg in turn. It may take some time for the French together with African troops to take over the entire north even with logistical help from the US and other allies.
The best that the intervention could hope for is a situation such as that in Yemen where the government was able to dislodge Islamic radicals from territory they had held for some time, but only to suffer continual terror attacks ever since as the radicals resort to guerrilla tactics that could continue indefinitely. The Malian rebels may decide that it is too costly to try to hold territory and to simply resort to continual terror attacks that will keep the area insecure indefinitely.
Even if the French and their African allies do achieve a military victory quickly, this is far from establishing a flourishing democracy in Mali. The influence of the military will probably not be less but even stronger after any retaking of the northern territory.
What is certain is the military intervention will cause a humanitarian disaster of huge proportions. The UN refugee agency claims the fighting could displace up to 700,000 people from their homes. UNCHR says that 400,000 will flee Mali while 300,000 would be displaced within the country. Even at this stage 150,000 people are estimated to have gone to neighboring countries.
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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