Libya and Mali: Forever Linked Together

not seem that the military was ready to assume power because they had no plan for governing. Yet, the soldiers understood their predicament; they were tasked with fighting the insurgents in the north without being giving any of the necessary tools to successfully wage the campaign.

In the chaos of the aftermath of the coup, the Tuareg and Ansar Dire fighters went on the offensive. In just a few days they had captured all of the major cities and towns of northern Mali. The Malian army outposts and garrisons were either overrun or abandoned to the advancing insurgency forces. On or about April 6, 2012 the MNLA declared independence from Southern Mali.

The militias immediately started to convert the Malian secular society into a fundamentalist Islamic state. In no other city was this transformation more evident than in Timbuktu. Ansar Dine undertook a campaign to destroy all the city’s historic and ancient statues and mausoleums that “offended Islam.” The sites that had attracted millions of tourists were being systematically destroyed. The legal system was dismantled with the destruction of courts and other governmental buildings. Islamic justice was imposed. People who were adjudge to be criminals or had offended Islam were summarily punished. The Islamists publicly dispensed justice by cutting of limbs of the guilty. Women were required to dress in accordance to strict Islamic law. Over night women had become second class citizens. Most of the residents fled the city once the hard-lined al-Qaeda supported militias arrived. Today Timbuktu and the major northern Malian cities look like ghost towns. Northern Mali’s population has been displaced which has caused problems for neighboring countries and the southern part of the country.

The international community immediately rejected the declaration of sovereignty. Yet, the rebels had displayed an understanding of their tenuous position; they needed to be legitimate in the eyes of the international community. Without political credibility and respect the group could not reach its goals.

At this point Ansar Dire realized that its alliance of convenience with the Tuareg fighters was coming to an end. The Islamist extremist understood the economic and political value of controlling the southern part of Mali. They too wanted to legitimize their hold on the country. Unlike the Tuareg rebels Ansar Dire did not want to assume stewardship of no-man-lands the size of France. On June 27, 2012 The Islamist militias defeated the MNLA in a battle for the ancient city of Gao. Since that time Ansar Dire has operated with impunity in the north of Mali, though skirmishes with the MNLA still occur.

The lines of confrontation with the West were now clearly drawn. It can be argued that West, once again, failed to recognize and support a valid separatist movement. The inaction on the part of the West allowed the movement to be hijacked by Islamist terrorists. Maybe the West should have paid more attention to the legitimate demands and concerns of the Tuareg rebels. Now France, Britain and the U.S. are in the awkward position of supporting a Mali government that was created in March after a military coup. Most commentators believe that the Malian government in Bamako has brought this crisis upon itself.

By October 2012 Mali and ECOWAS had already requested that the U.N. allow for foreign military involvement to beat back the Islamists. On October 12, 2012 the U.N. Security Council unanimously passed a French sponsored resolution calling on ECOWAS and the African Union to draft up “detailed and actionable recommendations” for military intervention. A second resolution was needed for funding and authorization of the military force. It soon became clear to everyone that the envisaged military intervention would not take place until late this year. Apparently this delay  was acceptable to the Obama administration. The U.S. wanted an African force to confront the Islamists and not have to put at risk American or Western soldiers.

Knowing the West’s reluctance to become militarily involved in Mali and the UN’s delay in taking decisive action why didn’t the AU field a military response force and insert it in Mali to hold back the Islamists? Is there any country in the AU with an effective and professional military force? It seems like African countries are always ready to send troops to take part in U.N. sponsored missions but never take any military initiative. By fighting under the Blue flag the countries can be seen as fighting for universal freedom, The mission is paid by the international community and the political risks are shared by many nations. It might be time for African nations to develop the means whereby they can police their own problems.

The Islamist militias understood the West’s reluctance to become involved in Mali’s internal affairs. The likelihood that African nations would field a military force on their own to oppose the Islamists was completely discounted. The leaders of the Islamists knew that the Malian army posed no military threat. Seizing a perfect moment the al-Qaeda backed Islamists pushed southwards. The advancing forces immediately captured the town of Konna on January 10, 2013. A force of 1300 Islamist fundamentalists next set their sights on the town of Mopti, which is a Malian army garrison town. Many military experts believed that the fall of Mopti would have allowed Ansar Dine to occupy

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