|"Activists" of the Ansar Dine activist group in August. activistically|
introducing Islamist values to northern Mali [Image Source]
Briefly, it's in West Africa, locked in on all sides by Algeria, Niger, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Senegal and Mauritania. It covers about half a million square miles, has no sea shore, and is 90% Moslem. Economically, it depends on agriculture, including cotton production, and (yes) fishing from the Niger and Sénégal rivers, but also has significant underground resources: gold, uranium, and salt. Still, resources notwithstanding, half of Mali's population lives on less than $1.25 a day, which is the international poverty cut-off line [Wikipedia]. In fact, Mali is one of the poorest places on earth.
In the late 19th century, the empire builders of France grabbed control of Mali and added it to what was then called French Sudan. After a coup in 1991, it became a democratic, multi-party state and then a year ago, the serious conflict started. Northern Mali was seized by Islamist groups using the Al-Qaeda brand, and imposed what the French AFP newsagency calls "a brutal form of Islamic law". This seriously displeases the colonial power, so France has just deployed 500 of its troops there and has called in African forces mainly from states that used to be part of the French African empire who will be sending some hundreds of their own troops shortly: Niger, Senegal, Togo, Benin and (less French) Ghana. Nigeria will lead the intervention and provide around 600 men.
Even Australia is said to be preparing to get involved and as for European resources...
A planned 400-strong European Union military training mission is expected to be speeded up and launched by early February, but would not have a combat role, said Michael Mann, spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. France's intervention has been backed by the European Union, NATO and the United States, while Britain is providing logistical support in the form of transport planes. Germany said Monday it was considering ways to help France in its mission in Mali such as providing logistical, medical or humanitarian aid. [AFP]
Now we don't have a problem understanding why people would want to fight back against Islamists who have grabbed control of a society. And especially when those Islamists have done the sort of grotesque things that Islamist terrorists do.
- Destroyed ancient shrines [CNN], once a major draw for Islamic scholars from around the world
- Banned music [CNN]
- Causing the public stoning death of a couple accused of having an affair [CNN]
- Cut off a man's hand as punishment for theft [BBC]
- Threatened artifacts in Timbuktu [BBC]
- Rapes and killings [BBC]
The U.N. Security Council authorized a peacekeeping mission in December 2012. Here are samples of what the news channels say about the French and their peacekeeping role:
- "Sixty Islamists were killed in Gao alone on Sunday, according to residents and a regional security source" [AFP]
- "These jihadists have suffered heavy losses with more than 100 deaths", Mali's Foreign Minister Tieman Hubert Coulibaly said today [AFP]
- French warplanes attacked rebel stockpiles of munitions and fuel today [AFP]
- The French captured Diabaly, 400km from the capital today [BBC].
- France's Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said today that his country's campaign was "developing favourably" [BBC]. On the other hand, French president Hollande said today that the militants are "better trained and armed than expected" [AFP].
- And "The Pentagon is now weighing a broad range of options to support the French effort, including enhanced intelligence-sharing and logistics support, but it is not considering sending American troops" [NY Times]
Now some indicators of what the Islamists have on their minds.
- "France has attacked Islam. We will strike at the heart of France" - Leader of MUJAO, the Movement for Unity & Jihad in West Africa, threatening France's interests in Bamako, the rest of Africa, and Europe [AFP]. MUJAO's strategy, as described by Al Jazeera, is "that they want Sharia law everywhere in the world..." and get their funding from Arab drug lords from the Gao area.
- France had "opened the doors of hell" with its intervention and faced a situation "worse than Iraq, Afghanistan or Somalia" - another MUJAO leader Omar Ould ("Redbeard") Hamaha speaking on Radio Europe 1 [AFP]
- Concerning France's seven hostages held in Mali. "We will make a statement on the hostages today. From today all the mujahedeen are together." [AFP]
- Should "the international community" be outraged over what, on the face of it, seems to be a "heavily disproportionate" response?
- Is it significant at all that the BBC - which notoriously avoids using the word 'terrorist' whenever it reports on what the Islamic and Palestinian Arab terrorists do to Israelis - seems to have fewer qualms writing and quoting the word terrorists, with and without quotation marks, when they are Malian?