While parts of the British media obsess about whether or not the UK has landed a few special forces boots on the ground in Mali, a far more significant deployment has been taking place.
An armoured column of Chadian troops was rumbling on Wednesday through the Niger scrub on its way to the Mali border. The contingent is part of a 2,000-strong force that N‘Djamena has promised to deploy to help retake the northern two-thirds of the country from Islamist militias, whose offensive towards the Malian capital triggered France’s intervention.
The Chadian army has had extensive training from France and some from the US too in recent years. More importantly, the Chadians have their own history of fighting rebellions in scalding desert sands and mountains – something the smaller Nigerian contingent that has landed in Bamako as part of a hurriedly put together African intervention force cannot quite claim. Read more
- Edward Luce thinks it was more directly political than in 2009, paraphrasing: “Together, we will pursue my objectives.”
- Gideon Rachman thinks Obama has made it clear that he wants his legacy to be domestic, but it may not work out that way.
- Ezra Klein says: “Obama’s first presidential campaign, and his first inaugural address, were about moving America past our old arguments. His second presidential campaign, and his second inaugural address, were about winning those arguments.“
- In his notes from the inauguration, David Remnick felt his speech was “infinitely better, more self-assured, more politically precise than his first” and… well, who doesn’t love Beyoncé?
In the rest of the world…
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A French army officer stands guard on January 16, 2013 at the military airbase in Bamako (ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images)
How justified was France’s decision to intervene in Mali and seek to thwart the advance of the Islamist militants inside the country?
Nearly one week after President François Hollande ordered military action, the question is one which is beginning to reverberate in media commentary. The French have been clear that they need to go into Mali to stop the spread of an al-Qaeda linked movement that has a significant foothold in the country and might ultimately threaten the west. But some figures in the US administration clearly have doubts about the wisdom of the move.
The biggest concerns have been raised in an article in Thursday’s New York Times. The NYT says US officials have only an “impressionistic understanding” of the militant groups that have established a safe haven in Mali. It suggests that some US officials wonder how much of an external threat they pose. The NYT quotes Johnnie Carson, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, who last June played down the terrorist threat to the United States from Mali. He said that the al-Qaeda affiliate operating there “has not demonstrated the capability to threaten U.S. interests outside of West or North Africa, and it has not threatened to attack the U.S. homeland.” Read more
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The advance south in recent days by Mali’s Islamist rebels has caught the region and wider world on the back foot and precipitated a move by former colonial power France to the front foot.
Speaking to diplomats in Paris on Friday, President François Hollande, confirmed France’s willingness to intervene militarily on behalf of the Malian government under the terms of existing UN Security Council resolutions. Only hours later on Friday, France said it had initiated military action in support of a government offensive to take back lost ground by government troop. Air strikes followed. Read more
There were headlines this weekend about a big military defeat for Islamist militants in Somalia. But even as international forces tackle Somalia, there is growing concern that a new area of lawless anarchy is emerging in northern Mali. I am currently at a conference in Morocco, and the security types here are talking openly about the need to intervene in Mali. A report from the respected International Crisis Group made the same point a few days ago.
The central government of Mali lost control of the northern half (or, by some reckonings two-thirds) of their country back in April. The region is now said to be under the sway of Islamists, who are allowing “foreign fighters” and jihadists to operate freely. The upsurge of violence in nearby Libya has focussed attention on how Mali is serving as a base for radical Islamists across north Africa. Read more
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