The French forces in Mali will pay a high price for the killing of Muammar Gaddafi. As hopes for a blitzkrieg war are dwindling, the likelihood of the appearance of the ‘African Afghanistan’ is increasing.
A fall of the Bamako regime will destabilize the region and affect Russia’s interests in Africa. These points of view have been expressed by Voice of Russia experts as they comment on the possible geopolitical circumstances of the current conflict in Mali.
Islamists promise to strike at the very heart of France for its armed invasion of Mali. The seizure of hostages in Algeria marks the beginning of the terrorists’ revenge plan. Professor Pierre Arauche of Sorbonne University, comments.
“The promise and the seizure are related because the hostage takers demanded the withdrawal of French troops from Mali. This group of terrorists is historically linked to militants operating in the north of Mali. Their interests were put under threat following France’s decision to neutralize them.”
The current operation is France’s third in Africa over the past two years. Paris intervened in the conflict in Cote d’Ivoire. It led to the overthrow of Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi. Now, it is leading a military campaign in Mali, which has come under the influence of Islamists. The costly operation in Mali is the price to pay for the toppling of the ruling regime in Libya, Jacques Sapir of the French High School of Social Sciences, says.
“The campaign will cost €350-500 million. Part of ground forces are waiting for the dispatch to Mali in neighboring countries, which makes it possible to cut the costs of their transportation. Things were different during a military intervention in Afghanistan.”
Afghanistan is mentioned ever more frequently in connection with the escalation of the armed conflict in Mali. Mirage fighters pose little threat to Islamists who operate from the mountains. Coalition forces in Afghanistan faced similar problems. This means France and its allies should brace themselves for a long and exhausting war. While the West gave a tacit support of the Taliban march on Kabul, it openly backs groups that seized power in northern Mali. Similarly, France, Britain and the US supported terrorist groups in Libya to secure the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi. The West supplied rebels with weapons to fire at Gaddafi. Now, these rebels are firing at western forces in Mali.
The military operation against government troops in Mali was started by Touareg tribes who formed the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad. Toureg representatives who served in Muammar Gaddafi’s army make the backbone of the movement. After fleeing to Mali to escape persecution from the new Libyan government, they announced the creation of an independent Touareg state in the north of the country. Now that they are being chased by Islamists, including Al Qaeda militants, Touaregs are determined to fight on and don’t rule out talks with the authorities. Moussa Ag Asharatoumane, a representative of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad in Europe, comments.
“A wide range of groups are operating in the Sahara Desert – terrorists, Islamists, drug dealers. They are sowing chaos. Their purpose is to impose Sharia law in the northern and other parts of Mali. They are pursuing other goals and are posing a threat to all Malians.”
In an interview with a Voice of Russia correspondent Moussa Ag Asharatoumane said the Touareg people are open for dialogue with Bamako and are ready to start talks on a Touareg autonomy and its peaceful co-existence with Bamako. Touaregs don’t consider a war to be an alternative means of achieving their goals.
Meanwhile, war is under way in Mali and has gone beyond the country’s borders. Mali’s neighbors are concerned about the possibility of Islamic terrorism and Touareg separatism spilling over. Alexei Vasiliev of the Institute of Africa comments.
“Even though Mali’s population is poor, the country is rich in mineral resources. Mali is Africa’s largest cotton producer and livestock exporter. A fall of the Bamako regime will destabilize the situation in the region and will hit the interests of France, and to some extent, Russia. Moscow is interested in stability and wants stable economic and political relations with countries of the region.”
Even though experts can’t predict what path the developments in Mali will take in the near future, they are sure that the sequence Libya-Mali-Algeria will continue, even though they don’t know where.