Danger Room: ‘Now What?’: As France Leaves Mali, West’s New War Strategy Shows Peril

14.02.13

Categorie: Africa, David Axe, Extremists, France, Wired |
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French troops wave a French flag in Mali. <em>Photo: French Ministry of Defense</em>

French troops wave a French flag in Mali. Photo: French Ministry of Defense

by DAVID AXE

On Friday, Feb. 8, a man wearing a military uniform motored up to a Malian army checkpoint in the ancient city of Gao, recently liberated from Islamic militants that had held the arid country’s expansive north since early 2012. The rider triggered an explosive belt, killing the bomber but merely wounding a Malian soldier standing nearby.

By the standards of suicide bombers, the Gao attack was unimpressive. But it was chilling nonetheless. It was the first suicide attack in the West African country since the beginning of the civil war last year, and an early blow in a nascent insurgency targeting Mali.

Last Friday’s desultory blast was also a reminder of a recent military lesson. Speedy, high-tech, coalition-based military interventions, the kind increasingly favored by the U.S. after more than a decade of open-ended occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, can begin neatly and end messily — if they really end at all.

Washington’s calculated support in Mali, including intelligence, drones, logistics and cash, enabled French, Malian and allied troops to quickly recapture northern territory from militant forces led by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, a.k.a. AQIM, the terrorist organization’s North African affiliate. A coalition victory in the main assault was a foregone conclusion. It’s the phase of the conflict after major combat that should worry U.S. officials. And that phase is beginning now.

Army Gen. Carter Ham, head of the U.S. Africa Command, put it best in mid-January during the early hours of the French-led campaign. Paris’ bombers struck militant forces as French commandos mobilized Malian troops and armored battalions raced to reinforce France’s African garrisons. Ham was apparently already thinking past the initial battles, to the possibility of a drawn-out insurgency. “The real question,” Ham said, “is now what?

Now more than ever, America wants neat, short conflicts. There’s no appetite for drawn-out operations, to say nothing of large-scale troop deployments. But Mali is likely to underscore an unpleasant truth. Today’s conflicts are usually anything but tidy or brief.

Read the rest at Danger Room.

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2 Responses to “Danger Room: ‘Now What?’: As France Leaves Mali, West’s New War Strategy Shows Peril”

  1. Josh says:

    I’m with you 100% on the overall tone here, but it seems a little disingenuous to refer to the Algeria fiasco as militants ‘striking back’.

    It is far more likely that the Algeria attack was a straightforward fundraiser than a retaliation, and was almost certainly planned pre French intervention.

    Whilst I have almost no doubt that Mali will, as you say, ‘descend into insurgency’, I would hesitate to use Algeria as a proving factor.

  2. jimmy says:

    The pattern of conquest employed by AQIM is beginning to reveal itself in Mali just like what has been revealed in Syria. Countries like Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Libya have no objection to this type of conquest cuz it helps to rid those unwanted “multiculturalist” aspects of the religion. So western leaders should stop being such terrible busybodies.

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