By this time, the French military intervention in Mali is nothing new. One thing that very few media outlets has noticed is France’s response to the conflict. It seems that out of blue, and in the blink of an eye, French President, Francois Hollande, gave the order to bomb Islamic positions in Mali. The thing is that way before France decided to send troops there, the US was already concerned about the growing threat Islamic rebels pose in that part of Africa. This report came out on December 24, 2012:
From Russia Today:
US deploying troops to 35 African countries
[…] Earlier this month, DoD sources with insider knowledge told the Washington Post that US troops will soon be en route to the nation of Mali in order to thwart the emerging threat of Islamic extremists, including al-Qaeda aligned insurgents. With the latest news from the Pentagon, though, Mali will be just one of many African nations hosting US troops in the coming year.
And on January 11, 2013 French Rafale fighters started bombing Mali. This military intervention didn’t happen overnight, and judging by France’s response, it seems that nobody though, including the US, that the Islamic rebels were going to gain control of half of the country so quickly. The first question to rise in this new conflict, or new “undeclared war” as former Congressman Ron Paul has described it, is: why Mali?
What kind of terrorist threat does Mali actually represent and how did the current situation come about? The seizure of northern Mali by what has been described as Islamists affiliated to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is rooted in three elements coming together.
The first is the presence of frequently nomadic Tuareg tribesmen, the original pre-Arab North Africans who constitute an ethnic minority across much of the Sahara region and who generally believe themselves to be treated poorly by the local governments.
Second is the arrival on the scene of increasing numbers of Islamic militants who had been driven out of their usual bases in the Sahara region and the Horn of Africa. Third is a major influx of weapons from Libya in the wake of the overthrow of Colonel Moammar Gaddafi together with the arrival of unemployed Tuareg and other African mercenaries previously paid by the Libyan regime who knew how to use them.
Bringing all three together, the Tuaregs saw their opportunity to establish an autonomous state in Mali, suddenly had the weapons to do so, and had a powerful and well organized ally in the form of Islamists.
The Malian Army, being trained by the US Army’s African Command, did what all unmotivated friends of Washington normally do: many deserted to join the insurgents, taking their weapons with them. In the ensuing mess, the better organized Islamists wound up on top.
The Malian Army really looks like Fulgencio Batista’s Army before Fidel Castro took power in Cuba .
From the New York Times:
At first, the battle went well. Boubacar Yattara, a 25-year-old Malian soldier, fed the heavy machine gun atop an armored vehicle. His unit fired on a truck full of Islamist militants, destroying it. He radioed for reinforcements, but his commanding officer had bad news. His fellow soldiers had already fallen back, beating a hasty retreat.
So Mr. Yattara did what other soldiers had done as the fighting intensified: He stripped off his uniform, waded through an irrigation canal and melted into the town’s civilian population.
And when there is not leadership and morale, this what an Army always end up doing:
Indeed, diplomats in the capital, Bamako, and at the United Nations say that if French warplanes and troops had not joined the effort, the Islamist fighters would have overrun
the entire country.
“We thought the army would protect us,” said Gaoussou Keita, a 57-year-old radio repairman in Diabaly, who spent nearly a week hiding from militants who occupied his hometown this month. “But they simply ran away.”
Worse than that, human rights groups say, Malian soldiers have been accused of atrocities in recent weeks, including summary executions of at least 11 people suspected of being insurgents.
No wonder the French decided to intervene.
However, this is not even half of the story. Whenever two or more countries go to war against each other, there are always strong economic reasons behind. And Mali is not exception. So far the media has just focused on the Islamist rebels, but Mali’s natural resources have rarely been mentioned, if not ignored at all. When President Hollande decided to sent troops there, he didn’t do it for humanitarian reasons only. He also did it in order to preserve France’s access to natural resources, specially uranium, which is mostly located in the area controlled by the Tuareg rebels, who first resisted French colonization, and now are in arms against Mali’s central government.
Map of the Mali Conflict (Source: The Atlantic)
The News Junkie Post reports:
Stefan Simanowitz wrote in 2009: “A key reason that the governments in Mali and Niger are not keen to give the Tuareg greater autonomy is that the areas that they inhabit are home to vast natural resources… [with] the world’s third largest uranium reserves as well as substantial oil reserves.”
He pointed out that French mining company Areva had lost its almost complete exclusive right to Niger’s uranium. This could easily explain why France could not afford to lose Mali as well.
[…] Uranium is indeed France’s key energy resource. France’s civilian nuclear program started its brisk development in the 1960s. According to the World Nuclear Association, over 75 percent of France’s electricity is produced from nuclear energy, and France is the world largest net exporter of electricity, with a revenue of more than 3 billion Euro a year.
France (through the company Areva) is also very active in the development and export of nuclear-reactor technology. Despite the fact that about 17 percent of France’s electricity is produced from recycled nuclear fuel, the country heavily depends on uranium.
Areva is a public French energy multinational, which trades on Euronext Paris. It has a market capitalization of almost €5,650 million, and as a curious piece of information, the day the Mali bombing started (January 11th), its stock began to rally. And judging by the chart provided by Bloomberg, the energy multinational is doing quite well ever since.
But, it’s not just uranium what’s stake in here. Mali is the third largest gold producer in Africa with huge deposits located in the south, and the most of the country’s potential oil reserves, such as the Taoudeni basin, are located in the North, which is the area occupied by the Tuareg and their Islamic paragraph is taken from Le Journee Miniere et Petrolieres du Mali:
Mali could also provide a strategic transport route for Sub-Saharan oil and gas exports through to the Western world and there is the possibility of connecting the Taoudeni basin to European market through Algeria.
On January 16th Islamic insurgents seized a gas plant in the town of In Amenas in eastern Algeria taking almost 800 people hostage. The standoff ended up the next day, when Algerian Special Forces raided the complex at the cost of 39 hostages and 29 militants dead.
It seems the rebels knew what they were doing. If they ever get control of that part of Algeria, and specially the area that borders with Mali, they will inflict serious economic damage to the West. What about if they ended up destabilizing or, even worst, controlling Algeria? Let’s not forget that Algeria fought a long civil war with Islamist groups in the 90′s and it has been a close ally of the US and France.
As this blog was being written, it looks that France’s intervention so far has been a success. French troops have advanced deep into Northern Mali, and have taken control of Kidal, the last town in possession of Islamist jihadists. However, as The Economist points out:
Despite their knowledge of the terrain and experience of guerrilla war, the rebels had chosen to fight like a conventional army, taking and holding cities, travelling along roads in vehicles that presented a clear target for French jets. Now they will revert to what they do much better: surviving as guerrillas in the desert.
So, this conflict is far from over, it has just began. In order to have an idea of the kind of conflict Western Allies will face in the Maghreb, please read Fight for Mali town reflects Islamist tactics, and consider this excellent BBC special report: The rise of Islamist militants in the Sahara.
In anticipation of this new war theater, which resembles Yemen and Afghanistan, the US is setting a new drone base along the Niger-Mali border, and judging by the words of President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the US is ready to intervene full force in that part of Africa. The US Air Force is already giving logistical support to French troops in Mali.
Wars are very expensive. It seems the public opinion already forgot that it was the Iraq war, entirely financed by borrowing and spending, that provoked the current economic crisis in the US. President Hollande said the Mali intervention “will last as long as is necessary.” At this point, it’s more than evident that a new front in the “war of terror” has been opened. What is not clear yet is how far the West will go to protect its economic interest. Will the West intervention in Africa signal its economic demise? Only history will tell.
The Intell Blog