Have you ever heard of the expression “out in Timbuktu”? In case you did not know, Timbuktu is a city in Mali, a former French colony, that has been in the news recently. March marked the third month of French military involvement in Mali.
In late February, the United States sent 100 military personnel to neighboring Niger to set up a drone base.
The conflict in Mali began about one year ago when a military coup took over the Mali government but was not able to consolidate control over the whole country. As a result, al-Qaeda militants were able to cross the border from Algeria and took over the northern part of the country and implemented Islamic law.
When al-Qaeda started to move south, France and the Economic Community of Western African States sent soldiers there.
Mali is a nation in western Africa that became independent from France in 1960 and had a fairly stable government until the military overthrow in March 2012. The soldiers were unhappy with the government’s support in the military battle with the Tuareg, a native ethnic group in the north of the country.
Mali is divided between Muslims in the north and non-Muslims in the south. Without a government, the Tuareg gained control of the north. However, the Tuareg were helped by some members of the Islamist Mahjreb, and soon, the Tuareg fled to nearby countries.
Since this conflict began, nearly 350,000 people have been displaced. The French and African soldiers have pushed the al-Qaeda to the north where the militants have hidden in caves in the mountains. However, the French forces keep running into trouble with jihadist groups, who have had experience fighting form their time in Libya and Afghanistan. The U.S. has aided the French by supplying transport planes and now the drone base.
However, the French do not want to be there permanently. It has already cost the French government over $95 million in three months. They currently have 4,000 troops in Mali. The French government has called for a U.N. peacekeeping force to take over.
I do not think it will be very easy for the French to leave Mali. Even when the French leave, the battle will be difficult for the U.N. peacekeepers. Mali's geography makes it easy for groups to attack and retreat into the mountains.
Whether it is France or the U.N. peacekeepers in Mali, will they prevent terrorist attacks or agitate al-Qaeda and the other militants, leading to more terrorist attacks?
Another question is, since France is battling al-Qaeda, will this lead to repercussions in France? Finally, the U.S. has so far only provided support to the French. What will happen when the French leave?