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article imageOp-Ed: French forces to stay in Mali until July at least

By Ken Hanly     Mar 1, 2013 in Politics
Bamako - In spite of the rapid advance of the French in taking the main cities in northern Mali and driving rebels into the mountains, militants are fighting back and launching surprise attacks.
The French thought that they would end the war in a matter of weeks and turn over security to Malian and African forces. The French said that they would begin withdrawing troops this month.
However, French officials have just announced that French troops will remain until at least July in Mali. Even that withdrawal date is based upon the assumption that there will be successful elections soon.
Even as the French presence was building up, French leaders insisted that they would leave only when the country was safe, democratic and free from terrorism. This promise ensured that French forces would not be withdrawn this month, or not too many of them, but that they would remain in Mali an indefinitely long time.
The Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird made it clear Canadian troops would not participate and said:"On one side we have a military government that took power in a coup last year and on the other side an al Qaeda affiliate. I don't think they're going to sign on for a peacekeeping mission.It's very much going to be an insurgency on the ground like we've seen in Iraq and like we've seen in Afghanistan."
What was to be ended in a few weeks is now turning into an occupation of at least six months.
Perhaps, rather than waiting to be involved in a situation as in Afghanistan, the French will modify their goals, turn the battle over to the Malian and African forces for the most part and make do on the ground with special forces, no doubt with the aid of the US and others.
Until there is security in the north, it will be difficult to hold elections. The Tuareg MNLA who supported France want to negotiate autonomy for the north. The interim government is weak and basically controlled by former military coup leaders. The most difficult part of creating a stable and functioning Mali, let alone a democracy, is just beginning.
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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 DigitalJournal.com
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