Editor's note: Ulrike Guérot is on a two-week break. Guest columnist Richard Gowan will be writing the Continentalist while she is gone.
Is the European Union about to engage in a proxy war in the Sahara? In late-July, European foreign ministers directed EU officials to come up with “concrete proposals” for supporting an African stabilization force in Mali. There’s no doubt that Mali needs stabilizing: Islamist separatists with links to al-Qaida have seized the north of the country, and the south has been in political turmoil since a coup in March.
What can the EU do to contain and resolve these problems? European officials have been worried about Islamism in the Sahel for some time, in part because insurgents have seized a string of European hostages in the vast, poorly governed territories that span several of the region’s countries. French special forces have raided al-Qaida bases on Mali’s border with Mauritania. Now the EU is deploying a 50-person military and civilian advisory mission, EUCAP Sahel, to help Niger address terrorist threats.