Money & Ideology: the one or the other?
The UN Security Council voted in December to support a 3,300-strong African Union (AU) force to be deployed to Mali in January of 2013; the AU force was mandated by the UN to assist in the restabilization of the country following the March 2012 coup. In the meantime, France has deployed approximately 1,400 of an anticipated 2,400 troops to Mali in a bid to secure the peace until AU troops can be mobilized. The US has offered airlift and intelligence support to aid this effort.
Starting last Friday January 11th, France began extensive air raids in a bid to stem the movement of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghrib (AQIM) affiliated groups from the northern portion of the country (which they have held since April) to the southern portion of the country. The French air raids, as of January 17th, had evolved into the ground deployment of Special Forces troops to further counter the movement from the north. At this time, the previous lines are holding.
But while Europe has been cohesive in its condemnation of the potential terrorist haven within proximity to Europe, few other nations have expressed an interest in being involved in any kind of air or ground operation. Spillover to other armed groups in the area also seems likely, with the recent kidnapping of several foreigners around In Amenas, Algeria, and public statements linking these kidnappings to French involvement in Mali.
These new incidents build on a complex history in the region involving “radical Islamist”-affiliated parties and personalities involved in kidnapping-for-profit schemes. This is compounded by a complex political history that sees the former colonial power, France, as the current European aggressor. And a one-eyed, Afghani-trained mujahadeen fighter – Mukhtar bin Mohammed al-Mukhtar, or more affectionately, al-Awar – the one eyed. Al-Mukhtar is reputedly responsible for several kidnapping-for profit schemes in north Africa. It is also rumoured that he was kicked out of AQIM for these extra-curricular activities.
As aid agencies and neighbouring countries prepare for the anticipated floods of refugees, one wonders what the outcome in Mali will be. Are Western powers correct in their assumption of working to halt the creation of a terrorist haven in North Africa, that would allow Al Qaeda unprecedented control and networks in the region? Or, 10 years after U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, is the West preparing to once again become mired in some far-off desert?