Jan 15 2013

What’s Behind France’s Military Assault on Mali?

Feature Stories | Published 15 Jan 2013, 10:50 am | Comments Off on What’s Behind France’s Military Assault on Mali? -

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President Obama is considering sending drones and other intelligence gathering resources to aid France and Britain in a new conflict that has opened up in Western Africa. Over the weekend, French warplanes dropped bombs on Mali, and British forces may join in. While Obama has vowed not to send in American ground troops, the French are increasing their presence on the ground to 2,500 soldiers.

The military escalation comes in the new year as Mali’s government requested help from Western nations against a militant Islamic group’s take over of an area in the North called Azawad, considered the homeland of the Touareg people. A year ago, Azawad had witnessed a liberation struggle led by the secular group, National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (or MNLA, known by its French acronym). President Amadou-Toumani Toure was ousted in a coup last March and the country plunged into chaos.

Fundamentalist groups linked to the group Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM), eventually took over, in a move directly linked to the NATO toppling of Moammar Gaddafi’s regime in nearby Libya. Touareg fighters formed a large part of Gaddafi’s armed forces – they returned to Northern Mali well armed from Libya last year, and ready to fight. The rebels have been occupying the north since April and are now moving further south into the country.

French military action in Mali has become a flash point for the rebel groups, who have vowed to shake off Mali’s French colonial past. According to President Francois Hollande, French intervention is driven by the threat Malian groups symbolize for European security.

The rebel groups’ ambition is apparently driven by a desire to impose Sharia law in Mali and all of Western Africa. On Monday, despite a few days of bombing, the rebels captured the town of Diabaly, just 250 miles from the Malian capital Bamako.

GUEST: Emira Woods, Co-Director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, and an expert on U.S. foreign policy with a special emphasis on Africa

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