The French Military Intervention in Mali

Georgy Gounev – January 30, 2013 – First Published by American Thinker 1/30/2012

Media coverage  of the French reaction to the establishment of an Islamic enclave in Mali  creates the impression of a limited operation conducted by a small military contingent. The vastness of one of the largest and  poorest African countries has helped to reinforce such an impression. What  should not be forgotten, however, is that this picture is only the visible part  of the mighty iceberg.

The  early stages of the process that led to the French intervention in Mali was  connected to the appearance of the first Islamic groups in the northern part of  the country during the 1990s. The development that brought about the creation  of an Islamic enclave in Mali was initiated by the Islamic leftovers from  the Libyan and the Algerian civil wars.

The  oil-related cash that for decades flowed into Libya produced a wave of  immigrants from countries tot he south. The largest majority of black jobseekers  were looking for employment at the  numerous construction projects of rich  but underpopulated Libya.

When  the Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi decided to create a mercenary force similar  to the French Foreign Legion, immigration issues became more complicated. There  were numerous and generally false speculations about the important role played  by the black mercenaries in the civil war that had led to the downfall of  Qaddafi.

As  a matter of fact this role was quite limited. There were only 1,500 black  mercenaries, which included hundreds of Mali-based Tuaregs, out of the 76,000  soldiers loyal to the dictator. This situation didn’t save the terrified  majority of black immigrants to Libya from the brutal treatment  they got from the “rebels.”

The  end of Qaddafi rule was greeted enthusiastically by the world media. But what  remained hidden for quite some time was the huge arsenal of weapons the dictator  had acquired during the long decades of his rule. These weapons ended up  primarily in the hands of a motley crowd of Jihadists.

Recently  the French military contingent got involved in an intense battle with the  Jihadists in northern Mali. The French participants in the battle were impressed  by the sophistication of the training and the weapons of their enemies. But  there was no cause for amazement, considering that 10,000 shoulder-fired  missile launchers possessed by the Kaddafi army ended up in the hands of the  radical Islamists.

The  Algerian civil war throughout the 1990s was a conflict that still awaits a  complete analysis. This long and brutal confrontation was won by the Algerian  Army. From time to time, although defeated, the Islamists were able to organize  terrorist acts in urban areas and to maintain their presence in the isolated  desert areas of Algeria. It was from there that they recently launched an  assault on the Amenas gas facility located in the southeastern corner of the country.

The  remnants of the GIA, (the French acronym for the Armed Islamic Group, the  military forces of the Algerian Islamists), became a component of the Al Qaeda  in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

For  a long time, the strategy of the Algerian government with regard to the  challenges presented by radical Islamists was full of contradictions. On  the one hand, the Algerian Army and police forces continued harsh wartime  policies against detained Islamists. Also Algeria didn’t object to the use of  its airspace by the French military forces on their way to Mali.

On  the other hand, Algerian leaders, including President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, are not strangers to complicated maneuvers that  involve occasional secret contacts with the Jihadists. It was Bouteflika who not  so long ago decided to release about 2,000 imprisoned Jihadists in an attempt to  let bygones be bygones with the hope that it would pacify the country in the  aftermath of a long and bloody conflict.

With  this action, Pres. Bouteflika demonstrated an astounding lack of ability to  learn from one of the most important lessons of history, the essence of which is  simple: like all totalitarians, the Jihadists don’t recognize the existence of a  category called generosity or compassion. For them every statesman showing  tolerance is stupid, or weak, or both. Small wonder that the released jihadists  in Algeria quickly vanished from the city areas in order to emerge as guerilla  fighters.

The  creation of an Islamic enclave on the territory of northern Mali and the hostage  taking in southeastern Algeria were closely connected Jihadist endeavors.  Algerians played an important role in the occupied cities of Mali. At the same  time, the recent hostage taking was an operation in which 29 out of 40  participants were Tuaregs. Many among them were former black mercenaries in the  Qaddafi Army.

The  dramatic events that shook part of the African continent that not many people  care about could have extremely important consequences in the not-so-distant  future.

The  limited French military intervention in Mali that precipitated the hostage  crisis prevented for the time being the Islamic takeover of Mali. At the same  time however, the Islamic influence in the Sahel region, where the poorest  African countries are located, continues to grow.

In  other words the Jihadists have strong positions and connections in the states  that are located between the Arab-populated northern Africa and the rest of the  continent. There is an Islamic continuum between the Horn of Africa, with  Somalia as the best example, all the way to Mauritania.

If  the Islamic offensive in this region continues undisturbed, the next victims of  the Islamo-totalitarian assault will be Algeria and Morocco. The same factor  will influence and possibly speed up the ongoing Islamization of Egypt , Libya,  and Tunisia.

The  establishment of an Islamic stronghold on the Mediterranean coast of Africa will  represent a direct threat to France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy, and will have a  tremendous impact on the ongoing process of the Islamization of  Europe.

There  is a way to prevent these sinister developments that sooner or later will affect  the United States. An effective strategy would require a joint effort of an  American led NATO-Organization for African Unity (OAU) coalition, which should  organize the protection and defense of the continent. The current situation in  sub-Saharan Africa provides little assurance that any such steps will be  taken.

Georgy  Gounev teaches the ideology and strategy of radical Islam in Southern  California within the framework of the Emeritus program. He is also the author  of The Dark Side of the Crescent Moon, Foreign Policy Challenges,  Laguna Woods, CA, 2011. The book explores the international impact of the  Islamization of Europe.

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