Diplomatic Fallout: Is Mali Africa’s War Now?

Diplomatic Fallout: Is Mali Africa’s War Now?

France has been at war in Mali for just more than a week, and though you might not know it from much of the media coverage, France is winning. This fact has been overlooked in a good deal of commentary on the fighting for three reasons. First, the Islamist rebels the French set out to fight have proved surprisingly resourceful. Second, the Malian army has turned out to be hopeless. Finally, the seizure and murder of Western oil workers in Algeria by a group associated with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb has shown that the Islamists have some strategic depth.

Despite all this, Paris achieved its initial war aims in fewer than 10 days. It blocked the Islamist advance on Mali’s capital, Bamako, and forced the rebels to retreat. France has achieved all this before deploying the 2,500 troops it has promised, while incurring only one battlefield fatality. But French officials seem unwilling to press home their military advantage unilaterally. Last Saturday, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told a meeting of his West African counterparts that they should now “pick up the baton” in Mali.

It is highly unlikely that France will withdraw before the Islamists are fairly decisively beaten. There have been mixed signals from Paris about its war aims, and it is possible that different parts of the French government have divergent visions of success. But three further factors will shape French decisions.

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