The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

On Mali

From today's Le Monde

The situation in Mali, where France has launched a military strike because of the risk that the capital, Bamako, or its surroundings could fall into rebel hands (rebels here including jihadist groups) is incredibly complex. Beyond the question of the secessionist north and the junta that staged a coup against a democratically elected government last year, what is happening in Mali has far-reaching consequences for all the countries in the Sahel region. From those that may be as fragile as Mali is (Mauritania) to countries who appear to be playing on all sides of the conflict to have their cake and eat it too (Algeria). This consequence, in part, to the Libyan civil war is going to be with us for years.

For once, I am tentatively sympathetic to the idea of international intervention, since at least it is UN-sanctioned and demanded by the local government (although of course its legitimacy is scant.) Letting Bamako handle the situation itself hardly seems to be a solution, and the regional solution I would prefer does not seem to be forthcoming since every neighbor is either too weak or too reluctant to do anything. But I am withholding judgement here, since I know next to nothing about the situation. It just seems worth highlighting, though, as this war is not likely to get much attention in English, anyway.

There is also this remarkable piece in the NYT, which makes you want to hit your head against a wall:

For years, the United States tried to stem the spread of Islamic militancy in the region by conducting its most ambitious counterterrorism program ever across these vast, turbulent stretches of the Sahara.

But as insurgents swept through the desert last year, commanders of this nation’s elite army units, the fruit of years of careful American training, defected when they were needed most — taking troops, guns, trucks and their newfound skills to the enemy in the heat of battle, according to senior Malian military officials.

“It was a disaster,” said one of several senior Malian officers to confirm the defections.

Then an American-trained officer overthrew Mali’s elected government, setting the stage for more than half of the country to fall into the hands of Islamic extremists. American spy planes and surveillance drones have tried to make sense of the mess, but American officials and their allies are still scrambling even to get a detailed picture of who they are up against.

Now, in the face of longstanding American warnings that a Western assault on the Islamist stronghold could rally jihadists around the world and prompt terrorist attacks as far away as Europe, the French have entered the war themselves.

For the last decade, I've followed from afar these US counter-terrorism efforts, mostly thinking that the US was being swindled by the Algerians and others for whom "training" translates into securing US backing for their own agendas. But this seems really half-arsed. What guarantee is there that the French will fare better? Well, there isn't.

Some other pieces offering background on what's been happening in Mali, where the incompetence seems to be in abundance of supply on all sides: