News / Africa

Timetable for Military Intervention in Northern Mali Uncertain

Anne Look
The international community meets Friday in Bamako to work on the strategy for military intervention in northern Mali. France's defense minister says the intervention could happen in a matter of weeks, while others say the operation is months, maybe even a year, away.

The United Nations Security Council has been calling for months on ECOWAS to provide a more detailed plan for its proposed military action in northern Mali against the al-Qaida linked Islamists who seized control in April.

The Security Council has approved a resolution urging West African countries to speed up preparations for the intervention. ECOWAS and the African Union now have 45 days to present a plan.

The Security Council would then need to hold a second vote to decide whether to green light the operation. And that is assuming that it approves the proposal as is, and does not request further details or revisions. This could take weeks, if not longer.  

And all of that is just to get the U.N. mandate for this internationally-backed, but African-led, operation.

So, why is the French defense minister saying the intervention could begin in a matter of weeks? Not months, he specified in a televised interview, weeks.  

It could be viewed as France prodding African players forward or tough-talking al-Qaida militants currently holding six French citizens hostage in the Sahel. However, analysts say this more hawkish rhetoric is also aimed at bringing armed groups in northern Mali to the negotiating table, still seen by many, including the U.N., as the optimal solution.

Paul Melly, francophone Africa specialist at London-based think tank, Chatham House, said a gradual ECOWAS deployment backed by the international community is a powerful bargaining chip.

"It makes sense to constantly remind people that this is happening. That this is serious. This isn't just rhetoric, while actually doing it in a rather phased, deliberate way...I think the only way you'll get negotiations, is if you put that military chess piece on the board," Melly said,

Meanwhile, ECOWAS and Malian mediators could continue trying to bargain with the more amenable armed groups in the North, in particular the Tuareg rebel movement, the MNLA, and perhaps Ansar Dine, an al-Qaida linked Islamist group founded from within the Malian Tuareg community.

That strategy, analysts say, could at least isolate the more extreme, and often foreign, elements in the North, like al-Qaida of the Islamic Maghreb, for whom force may be the only answer.

Still, David Zounmenou, a senior researcher on the region at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, said the post-coup political power struggle in Bamako could undermine negotiations.

"You don't have a political coherence back in Bamako after the coup d'etat that took place on the 22nd of March, so if you don't have a coherent political transition in Bamako, no effort in terms of mediation will produce [results]," Zounmenou said.

Kwesi Aning, Director of Research for the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Center in Accra, Ghana, said ECOWAS realistically needs at least four months to get boots on the ground in Mali once it has the go-ahead from the U.N.

The risk of acting too fast and failing, he said, is just as serious as the risk of not acting at all.

"There are practical, technical reasons for it to take that length of time to put a credible force of 3,000 on the ground. We don't have combat aircraft. We don't have the goggles against the sandstorms. We don't have the appropriate boots and the clothing. Everything that ECOWAS troops will need in Mali will have to be requisitioned right from the start. And don't forget that most of the countries that have pledged troops don't have troops that are used to fighting in desert environments," Aning said.

France says it will provide logistical support, and the European Union is working on a plan to send military advisers.

So far, Nigeria and Benin are among the ECOWAS nations that have pledged troops. Other countries, like Senegal, have kept a lower profile following a threat by Islamists to attack any country that contributes.

There is also concern that military action could push jihadists and more refugees into neighboring countries.

You May Like

Syrian Rebels Poised for Anti-Russia Collaboration

Forty-one insurgent groups issue joint statement vowing retaliation for Russian air offensives More

Political Maneuver Revives Export-Import Bank's Chances

Parliamentary tactic gets bill out of committee, but it faces opposition in the Senate More

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs