Military interventions are incredibly delicate and fragile situations and should only be undertaken when absolutely necessary.
That is why all eyes are on Mali as French and African forces attempt to force back the al-Qaeda linked terrorist group that overtook Northern Mali last year. A critical intervention is underway: France has sent aircraft and at least 2,500 soldiers while the West African bloc, ECOWAS, is pledging 7,700 troops to combat the radical Islamists who are attempting to impose Sharia Law throughout the land, according to Reuters.
French President François Hollande’s decision for French military action, while unexpected, was warranted given the stagnant rate of progress by the international community to agree upon and deploy a coalition force to aid the Malian government, which called out for help from African neighbors and nations abroad.
But the conditions under which this intervention is taking place are not lacking in complexity, and that is why it is imperative for the French and other forces involved to tread carefully through this conflict. Given our experiences with volatile military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, we should understand the massive number of variables and danger posed to the intervening forces.
Fortunately, the vast majority of the Malian people and military have celebrated the arrival of the French forces. According to “The Guardian,” Soumalia Maiga told Reuters: “We are happy, even though it is frightening.” According to the “Washington Post,” Nana Toure, a native of Timbuktu, remarked, “French troops must not leave us alone then because those who fled may come back and cause problems for us,” she said. “French troops have to stay a bit to stabilize the place.”
ECOWAS has stated, however, that it did not want foreign boots on the ground, nor does it want the French to play a major role in the intervention or stay for very long.
Justifiably so, as extended occupation or excessive action by French forces, when combined with the internal Malian problems, could turn the very people who welcomed the French against them. Similarly, The Huffington Post reported that one French official stated, “The longer we stay, the bigger the risks.” We have seen this in our own military interventions in the Middle East.
A large number of internal problems exist within the Malian government, too, exhibited by the military coup in March 2012 as well as the arrest and forced resignation of Prime Minister Cheikh Modibo Diarra by military forces, according to “The Boston Globe.”
Militant sympathizers also pose a great threat, as large numbers of Malian soldiers have defected to join the insurgents in the North, pinning former comrades against one another.
Such issues bring into question the stability of the Malian government and military forces in play, a crucial component of this situation.
Collateral damage must also be avoided to the greatest extent possible. So far, roughly ten civilian deaths have occurred according to Human Rights Watch.
The conflicting wishes between the Malian government and the West African bloc regarding help from abroad, specifically from the French, further complicates the political side of this intervention.
The Malian government and ECOWAS should be the driving force behind these operations to take back Northern Mali and defeat the Islamist militants, but given the circumstances on the ground, continued and substantial French involvement may be necessary to secure the overrun areas of Mali.
Of course, the successfulness of the French and Malian forces in only two weeks, having reclaimed both Gao and Timbuktu, perhaps reveals that French troops are an asset worth keeping in the region a while longer.