Mali Could Become the New Afghanistan, Only Worse

Mali Could Become the New Afghanistan, Only Worse by Jason Thomas (long-time SWJ freind) at The Punch.

France’s military intervention into its former North African colony of Mali, dubbed Operation Serval, could become another Afghanistan if France and other European Union members are lured into a long campaign of counterinsurgency based on nation building, instead of one that remains focused on airstrikes and ground operations by Special Forces trained in unconventional warfare.

As the Dutch Foreign Minister said, “…there is not one European country that can hide if this threat would present itself to the European continent.”

Unless Western, social egalitarian countries like France are prepared to implement the kind of counterinsurgency tactics carried out by the infamous Selous Scouts in former Rhodesia, then these ferociously well-armed, highly mobile faith driven Jihadists will blend back into the harsh north African terrain only to terrorise the next weak State...

 

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West African wars have the flavor of grade school soccer games. It isn't the best team that wins, but the least bad team. From a development point of view, the Sahel makes Afghanistan loook like New York City. Irrespective of the coup, governance could be worse - but I can't see how anyone could recommend a kinetic-oriented strategy who is cognizant of Mali's economic statistics. GDP is 213th in the world; unemployment is 30%, literacy just under one third, with twice as many many as women able to read and write. Mali is an archtype of the literal and figurative bankrupcy of post-colonial Africa, and the Sahel provinces are the poorest and most desolate part of Mali. And then there are the refugees, already dependent on external food aid, scattered all over the place. Mali's neighbors need a stable Mali with secure homes to which these people can return. The bottom line is that Mali is broke, it needs external help to get fixed, and no combination of air strikes and direct action is going to fix the problem. Looking at the tempo of operations undertaken in the French-led offensive, they seem to be wasting no time clearing. How well they hold or they build remains to be seen. Personally, I find ECOWAS to be an interesting creature of the international community, we'll have to see what they bring to the "fight".

What to do ? Well, I'd suggest that a "one-size fits all" approach is likely to fail. It may seem trite, but a careful consideration of all lines of operations and all government and nongpovernmental actors is necessary. You need tough soldiers to go in and do this job - but the civilians who are committed to help these people need to be tougher still.

In the meantime, the US government is busily dismantling its "soft power" assets and going back to diplomacy and development as usual. Listening to Mrs. Clinton's testimony yesterday, I had to wonder how many of the changes she brought to Foggy Bottom will survive her tenure in office.

“France’s best unconventional counterinsurgency forces are the French Foreign Legion, one of the world’s elite military units with hardened Northern Africa experience.”

If I may plug the excellent Vanity Fair piece by William Langewiesche: http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2012/12/french-foreign-legion-expendables

I disagree.

The French did post-decolonialisation primarily two kinds of military missions in Africa
(1) troublefree garrisons, training missions
(2) quick kick in the butt

It's true the Mali intervention could become bad if done poorly and stupidly, but that's free of any valuable information, for everything can be ruined that way.

Another disagreement is about the 'air strikes + SF' part.
Seriously, the tool of choice should be neither; armoured reccce forces with some infantry and importantly indirect fire support (the kind of forces the French army is about) are perfect for this. Nobody needs glorified light infantry in dune buggies (or similar troops) there.

The opposition is not numerous, does not get resolute support by the people and all it takes to succeed quickly and easily is a fine classic rout. Break them in one or two engagements* till they run home in their Toyotas.
Afterwards, resort to (1): "troublefree training mission" for half a year.
Train the bureaucracy a bit as well, it's required to maintain an army. Logistics and personnel affairs > firefight drills.

*: Mission accomplishment first, troops second.