Potential Hot Spots: Countdown For The Mali Invasion

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October 18, 2012: The UN has authorized a military operation in northern Mali (now held by al Qaeda and other Islamic radical groups) but only if the African troops assigned to the task are made ready. The United States and EU (European Union) are planning to support the ECOWAS intervention force with cash, weapons, transportation, and technical services (like mine clearing). The U.S. and EU will not commit their own combat troops to the operation. ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) has offered an intervention force (mostly Nigerians) but the UN points out that these troops are not ready for a campaign in the northern Mali desert. The U.S. and EU are offering trainers to get the African troops ready for the campaign (that is mainly about capturing half a dozen cities and large towns, where the Islamic radicals are the strongest). The United States had demanded a stable government in southern Mali first but has since changed its mind. The U.S. still wants the Mali military purged of the mutinous officers who took over the government last March. These officers gave up power in April but remained in control of the military. There are supposed to be new elections, but these have not been held yet. The U.S. is backing off on this demand because it isn’t likely to be met any time soon.

The problem with the Mali Army has to do with politics. Most of the troops and officers got their jobs as political favors. It was all about patronage, not preparedness for combat. The few units that were combat ready were disbanded after the coup last March. This is common in many parts of the world, especially Africa. The current Mali troops are more about paychecks than military professionalism. Any plan for invading the north relegates the Mali troops to guard duty in the south. The U.S. would still like the Mali military to turn pro but that is a local political issue that is not quickly or easily resolved.

Meanwhile, Islamic radical rule in the north is becoming increasingly intrusive and brutal. People are being executed and there are a growing number of raids into markets, shops, and even homes looking for forbidden items (tobacco, alcohol, video or music recordings, religious amulets, and other items forbidden by Islamic conservatives). A girl was recently given sixty lashes in a public whipping as punishment for speaking to men she was not related to.

The Islamic radicals are increasing their manpower by offering over a thousand dollars a month to local teenagers who will join. However, the teenagers are told that once they take the money they are in until they die or the threat of ECOWAS intervention goes away. In a part of the world where family income is usually less than a thousand dollars a year, getting more than that each month is enormously attractive. The Islamic radicals assign hard core members of their organization to supervise the young recruits and beat or kill any who resist or try to desert. This approach has worked elsewhere in Africa and the world. The Islamic radicals can afford all this because al Qaeda has millions in cash on hand from drug smuggling operations and ransoms (for kidnapped Europeans).

In response to all this, the main Tuareg rebel group, the MNLA, which led the rebellion in the north last January, is now willing (since early in October) to take autonomy in the north, rather than a separate state, in return for ousting the Islamic radical groups that pushed the MNLA aside six months ago and took over in the north.

October 17, 2012: Guinea has released (after two months) a shipping container of weapons headed for Mail. Guinea wanted to be assured that the weapons were going to people legally able to receive them.

October 13, 2012: Islamic radicals in the north announced that they would kill six French citizens they hold captive (and three other Europeans) if the French supported an ECOWAS invasion of the north. France refused to back down.

October 12, 2012: The UN authorized the use of military force against Islamic radicals in northern Mali, but set a 45 day deadline for the operation to begin. Meanwhile there was a large demonstration in Mali’s capital supporting an invasion of the north.

October 5, 2012: In the northern city of Timbuktu several hundred women demonstrated in opposition to al Qaeda demands that all adult women wear a veil. Al Qaeda responded to the demonstration by beating the demonstrators and jailing some of them. A few women have been publically whipped for refusing to wear a veil.

 

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