By Razanne Chatila
Radical Islamists have surged in Mali and with the struggling Malian army trying to fight back the advancing Islamist fighters, and the French stepped in to help with ground forces landing this past Friday. The sudden deployment was announced to the surprise of many by French President Francois Hollande, who said that French participation and fighting would last as long as needed in order to guarantee that Mali’s government could maintain control.
“The terrorists have regrouped in recent days along the line that artificially separates Mali’s north and south,” said Hollande in his speech on Friday. “They have even advanced. And they are seeking to deal a fatal blow to the very existence of Mali. France, as is the case with its African partners and all the international community, cannot accept this.”
French troops and warplanes have been helping Malian government forces stop Islamists from advancing on the capital, Bamako, an effort they’re calling Operation Serval. This decision to intervene came from increased European and U.S. concerns over recent rapid military gains by the half-dozen Islamist and Tuareg militias that have controlled the northern two-thirds of the country for more than seven months now. They control more than 250,000 square miles, have Malian soldiers on the run southward and have imposed strict Sharia laws on civilian populations. Not only that, but they have also created a vast new haven for North African terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Concern has grown garnering international worry after the attacks in neighboring Algeria on Wednesday where Algerian Islamists are holding up to 41 foreign nationals, which includes seven Americans, in a standoff at a southern Algerian natural gas field, where the death toll now is unclear. These attacks urged Europe’s largest powers to unite in the goal of removing al-Qaeda linked militants. A quarter-million people have fled Mali, which is twice the numbers who have fled fighting in Syria. Mali was one of the most successful democracies in Africa until the insurgents began taking it over.
A U.N Security Council resolution backed by Western nations, promised to set up a 3,000 strong-intervention with soldiers from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). They were to be trained by French and other European officers, and the United States would contribute heavy air-transport planes and intelligence from satellites and drones. Also a team of about 400 European Union officers was scheduled to arrive in Bamako late this month to train 3,000 Malian soldiers in the hope that they could be redeployed in northern Mali, the officials said. American soldiers have been barred under U.S. law from training Malian forces because of the March coup d’état.
However, the troops are still not ready, and militias have advanced within 250 miles of Bamaku. The situation is dire, and the future is unclear. The international community is hesitant to lend a hand in fear of more debacles and mishaps. Mali is on the verge of being taken over by the militia group which would be stark changes not only for this country, but the entire region.
This post reflects the author’s personal opinions, not the opinions of Arizona Model United Nations.