France, ECOWAS intervene in Mali to Halt Advance of Radical Fundamentalists

The Socialist government of France’s Francois Hollande intervened in Mali on Friday and Saturday to stop the advance of Muslim fundamentalists toward the capital, with operations continuing today (Sunday). The radicals had taken Konna, a few hundred kilometers north of the capital of Bamako, which Hollande’s government appears to have considered a red line.

The intervention was staged by helicopter gunship and Mirage jets, which allegedly killed about 100 of the rebels. Hundreds of troops of the 4th Helicopter Combat Regiment of Pau, which had been prepositioned in Burkina Faso, came over to the capital of Bamako, and some flew up to Konna.

Under a United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force to support the Mali government, the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) had planned an intervention with some 3000 troops. It will mainly be a Nigerian force, with Senegal, Burkina Faso and Niger also pitching in 500 men each. The idea was to train the Malian army to defend its own country, which meant that no offensive was originally envisaged until September. The advance south of the fundamentalists forced Hollande’s hand. He is likely getting pressure from Algeria and other neighbors of Mali to do something before the radicals march into the capital and then have a whole country from which to launch further attacks. Hollande said he considered Ansar al-Din a threat not only to Mali and its neighbors but to France and Europe. It responded by threatening France. ECOWAS now says that a few hundred troops will be deployed to Mali immediately.

Euronews has a video report:

A coup in the capital last year was taken advantage of by at least two groups in the vast north of the country (an area as big as France itself). One was the relatively secular Tuareg, who proclaimed an independent Berber state, Azawad. The other, however, was Muslim fundamentalists, Ansar al-Din and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao). They appear to have subordinated the Tuaregs in much of the north, and by Thursday had taken Konna and were heading toward the central town of Mopti. The French intervention stopped their advance toward the capital.

Mali, a country of about 16 million (roughly the demographic size of the Netherlands or a little less populous than Florida), is 5 percent animist, 5 percent Christian, and 90 percent Muslim. But most Malians practice a Sufi and liberal-minded form of the religion, which values music and urbane culture. A small radical group based in the country’s vast north has come under Wahhabi influences from Saudi Arabia and wants to impose their fundamentalism on the whole country, attacking Sufi shrines (the equivalent of saints’ tombs in Catholicism).

14 Responses

  1. It’s been difficult to find much about this conflict in the U. S. media, with the exception of NPR’s recent report on the flight of Malian musicians and another on Hollande’s problems with intervention, particularly given France’s past record in North Africa.
    The unexpected consequences of the ouster of Gaddafi clearly will have echoing impact in other parts of North Africa and, perhaps, further to the South, although, as usual, reliable information about any such possibilities exist in the American media’s black hole.
    Thanks for reporting and keeping us up on this.

  2. After Gaddafi’s fall, Malian tuareg rebels went home heavily equipped with Grad rockets and other weapons they never had before. Bamako (and Algiers) knew all along that the rebellion was inevitable.

    • Corroboration for Bobs from NYT

      link to nytimes.com;

      PLUS, the point of how much American military aid/training is now being turning against “Western interests,”, whatever that might mean.

      What this all really does mean is that actions have consequences and its awfully hard, in the best of circumstances when monkeying around with geopolitics, to “manage” events. Much less in a place like Mali.

      • But… but… all the paperwork was in perfect order! This wasn’t supposed to happen!

        No, wait, cancel cancel do-over — this is all part of the Grand Plan! Yeah, that’s it! It’s more complicated than even most of the folks who read-in on the whole strategy even know! Because there is all this stuff that we can’t tell you about ‘cuz you have no need to know! And besides, you know, Arms Sales Are Very important To The Economy!

  3. I support the idea of Azawad but not at the price of radical religious militants gaining power.

    • The religious extemists that have sidelined the religiously moderate National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad do not demand independence from Mali. Their goal is to impose their idea of Sharia on all of Mali.

  4. Why is this happening now? Because the Tuareg rebels have been armed with Gaddafi’s heavy weaponry.

    • OK, walk me through this: the Tauregs have been beaten by the Wahabbi-backed fundamentalists, and this is because the Tauregs have Gadhaffi’s heave weaponry. Is that what you’re saying?

      It appears that the majority of commenters are ignoring what Professor Cole wrote, as well as the stories he linked to, is a rush to use a pre-positioned story line that, while it doesn’t do a good job matching up with the facts, tells them what they want to hear.

    • You seem to have confused the ethnic, secession-minded Tuareg rebellion with the religious, jihadi campaign to take over the country.

      • No, I didn’t confuse anything. You and rjlynn (both of whom seem to have trouble spelling Tuareg) seem ignorant of the fact that Ansar Dine is headed by Iyad Ag Ghaly, who is a Tuareg leader. So to say that Ansar Dine is fighting the Tuaregs is as meaningless as saying that the Madhi Army was fighting Iraqis or the Taliban are fighting Afghans.

    • The article that Travis Bickle links to gives other factors in addition to weapons from Libya. In addition to those, there’s the fact that coup-fearing politicians deliberatly kept the Mali military weak, droughts have made the Tauregs more desperate, and hostage-taking, drug-trafficing jihadis in the area have made tens of millions of dollars in recent years. There are a number of reasons this is happeng.
      The first Taureg uprisng happened in 1916, long before Gaddafi’s time.

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