Small Wars Journal

French Operations in Mali Roundup

Tue, 01/15/2013 - 9:14am

Analysts: French Military Walks Fine Line in Mali - Lisa Bryant, Voice of America.

France's military intervention in Mali has generally won praise both at home and abroad.

But fraught with uncertainty and the chance of reprisals by Islamist extremists, the offensive in its former African colony poses substantial risks.

Four days into its operation, the French military has moved swiftly from stemming an Islamist push to the south to striking northern targets in efforts to crush the insurgency.

Interviewed on French radio Monday, Christian Royer, France's ambassador to Mali, said the tables had turned against extremists, whose presence not only threatens Mali's stability but that of the larger Sahel region.

"[Our] airstrikes have changed the status quo, dislodging Islamists from strategically important towns like Mopti and Savare a few hundred kilometers from Bamako," he said, adding that the nation's capital city was calm.

But other French officials have expressed surprise at the insurgents' skill and preparedness: Hours after announcing they had thwarted a rebel advance, French authorities reported that rebels had attacked and seized the Malian town of Diabaly.

"There's always a risk for this kind of operation to take more time than initially expected," said Dakar-based analyst Gilles Yabi of the International Crisis Group, who predicts further difficulties eradicating Islamist strongholds in the north.

"It's not a very conventional war, because the enemy is a very mobile one, and we're talking about terrorist groups," he said, adding that he doesn't think French officials desire a protracted intervention. "It is highly possible that after retreating from the cities where they can't [fight] against the powerful force of the French military ... they will go to some hidden areas [that are] more difficult to access — the mountainous areas close to Algeria, for example."

But in Europe, the French intervention is boosting President Francois Hollande's dismal popularity ratings, with some of his biggest critics, such as far-right politician Marine Le Pen, expressing measured statements of support.

 "While France's decision to intervene in Mali was legitimate, the Islamists' growing clout is a result of French errors in Libya and Syria," said Le Pen on French radio.

While Paris has been careful to frame the intervention as a stopgap for a larger West African initiative against Islamists, members of the African press have been openly critical. In Algeria, which has a tense relationship with its former colonial ruler, news editorials questioned French motives in Mali.

Regardless of political speculation, however, the prospect of more immediate danger has not been questioned. Islamist groups have already threatened retaliation against Paris, and French officials are fearful of the fate of eight French hostages in Mali.

Warning against a drawn out military venture, terrorism expert Jean-Pierre Filiu of the Institute of Political Studies in Paris called for a brief, targeted intervention, describing the operation as a narrow conflict against physical enemies such as criminals and hostage takers.

The French government says the intervention will take the "time it needs" to thwart if not eradicate the Islamists, and many here in Paris hope that means weeks — and not months or years.

Mali Conflict: France to Increase Troop Numbers - BBC

Regional Defense Chiefs to Meet Over Mali Crisis - VOA

French Warplanes Hit Central Mali - WP

Malian Rebels Take Town and Vow to Avenge French Attack - NYT

Islamists Seize New Mali Town - VOA

Mali Islamists Gain Ground Despite French Fighting - AP

Mali: French Lead All-Night Bombing Campaign in Diabaly - AP

US Working to Speed Deployment of ECOWAS Troops to Mali - VOA

Hollande Sees African Troops in Mali in a Week - Reuters

Mali: US May Provide ‘Limited Logistical Support’ to French - WP

US Military Could be Drawn into Mali Fight - S&S

Panetta: US Support to French in Mali Aimed at al-Qaida - AFPS

US Military Assists France in Africa Raids - USAT

US Prepares to Help France in Mali, With Caution - VOA

Mali 'a Serious Concern' for UK - BBC

France Seeks Gulf Arab Help for Mali Anti-Rebel Push - Reuters

France Girds for New Threats After Mali Operation - AP

A Widening War in Mali - NYT editorial

France to the Rescue in Mali - WP editorial

Is Mali Another Loss for Counterinsurgency? - WP opinion

Mali and the Lessons of Western Intervention - Guardian opinion

War in Mali a Reminder of France's Grand Malaise - TNR opinion

France Takes the Lead in Mali - Commentary opinion

France's Lonely War in Mali - Guardian opinion

Why We Must Help Save Mali - NYT opinion

Al-Qaeda's Dangerous Play in Mali - TDB opinion

Mali’s Atrocities Began When It Lost Its Democracy - NYT opinion

Why France Couldn't Wait to Attack Mali - G&M opinion

Mali an African War France Couldn't Avoid - Reuters opinion



Fri, 01/18/2013 - 4:54am

In reply to by jholm

Keep in mind that "home" for some of the French troops engaged currently in Mali may be Djibouti, Chad or the Ivory Coast where France have either permanent bases or long standing deployments.

A core supporting force may stay in Mali for many years, or support can be provided yet again in short time from those.


Wed, 01/16/2013 - 9:28am

In reply to by Bill M.

I'm not suggesting a protracted counter-insurgency campaign, I just genuinely do not see what their long term objectives are. Taking the wind out of AQIM and rebel sails is great, it is also short-term. I agree with you that it would be nice to see more of a team effort since AQIM poses a transcontinental threat and instability in one part of west Africa threatens stability elsewhere in the region. Western and west African states have an interest in seeing operations in Mali through but, at least right now, I have not seen much in the way of a long term strategy.

Bill M.

Tue, 01/15/2013 - 11:18pm

In reply to by jholm

Seems to me they're focused appropriately on a limited military operation to achieve military objectives, not engage in a protracted occupation force focused on nation building. No one knows how it will play out, but at a minimum they will take the wind out of the terrorist sails and stop their rapid advance. Those are the lessons we hopefully learned once again. Very disappointing other European nations are standing side by side with France to assist since this particular group does present a growing threat to European interests and security.

So what is the French strategy in Mali? Bomb and bail?

"'There's always a risk for this kind of operation to take more time than initially expected,' said Dakar-based analyst Gilles Yabi." I had to laugh at this understated expression of a truth we have learned very recently, very painfully, twice.

It sounds like France sees this operation playing out like this:
- Step 1 - Bomb rebels until they retreat.
- Step 2 - Provide time and space for combined west African ground force to re-establish security.
- Step 3 - Return home.
- Step 4 - Hope that this setback causes exploitable rift between AQIM and Tuareg rebels.
- Step 5 - Hope that west African force provider countries have a greater appetite to finish the job than the French do (Is the assumption that NATO countries are in a resource constrained environment but African countries are not?).
- Step 6 - Hope west African ground force punches above its weight and fares better against these rebels than they have in the past (isn't Nigeria already struggling with this on their home turf? Mali's army was losing ground...)

How do you say "hope is not a course of action" in French?

Thumbs up to France for taking the initiative in an area of increasing concern. Thumbs down if they're going in half-cocked. Hopefully I'm wrong, ill-informed, or both.