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The Mire that is Mali $

The commentary from France is straight out of the “getting in deeper and deeper” playbook. After a week in which the woeful Malian army combined with French troops swept through much of the north of the country there are all sorts of problems that suggest a very lengthy engagement. The advance of French troops met very little resistance and within days the towns of Gao and Timbuktu were back in the hands of the government. This had nothing to do with inflicting a defeat on the al-Qaeda rebels as they simply melted back into the countryside. Now the Malian troops and the French are trying to protect the towns they took and that has proved to be far harder than taking them in the first place. Insurgents are taking potshots at the defenders every day and penetrate the defenses every day.

 

The Malian troops are poorly trained and poorly motivated. Their officers are inexperienced and often corrupt. The French are the only glue that holds them together and the day when the African force is ready to deploy keeps being pushed back. The new African “force” is short of men, equipment and they are untrained. There have already been desertions and they have not left their training camps. The date of deployment is likely to be pushed back to the end of this year.

 

The hope is that the African force can handle this but it is a faint hope at best. The military in Mali is in shambles and needs to have someone else handle 98% of the task. The troops that are being deployed from the other African states are not much better as these nations know better than to put their best soldiers at risk or to have them too far from the homeland. The al-Qaeda and the Tuareg mercenaries are far better trained and equipped than those that oppose them – at least once the French pull out.

 

If France does withdraw the situation in Mali will fall apart within days or weeks and the French would either have to intervene again or they would have to let the chips fall where they may. Neither option would be too popular but the least acceptable would likely be the latter as departure would mean that the earlier intervention was pointless and France would look weak – Francois Hollande even weaker.

 

The most likely scenario is that France digs in and presents a defensive posture that centers on securing the southern part of the country as well as some key cities in the north. This is a long term game and France lacks the logistical support needed. That means that the British will be asked to provide some and they will – in turn – ask the US to get engaged. This stands to be the next quagmire for the western states.

 

Many have asked what the alternative would be. Of course there is always withdrawal and acceptance of what that entails. There is also the course that favors punishment and little engagement. This means that rebels are hammered hard and long with drone strikes and air bombardment and that this keeps up until they elect to leave. The problem is that this involves heavy civilian casualties and the insurgents will never go away – they just blend in and wait for another day to fight.

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