French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has visited the West
African state of Mali where his troops have been fighting since
January. France intervened in the central and northern regions of Mali
in a purported campaign to remove the presence of several Islamic
organizations which have been designated as terrorists by Paris and
other imperialist states.

Recently the United Nations Security Council authorized the deployment
of approximately 12, 500 peacekeeping troops which will establish
bases at various points in these contested areas of Mali. This UN
force is also structured to take the place of a 6,000-person regional
African force which has been fighting alongside the French troops
against three armed Islamist groups in the north.

Although Francois Hollande?s government said in January that the
French operation in Mali would be short-lived, the plans have now been
revised. France claims that it has drawn down some its troops leaving
4,000 in the country.

According to reports from the French defense ministry at least 1,000
troops will remain in Mali until the end of the year. 250 of these
soldiers are specifically slated to be involved in a training mission
with the Malian army, while the other 750 are to continue combat
operations.

A major area of the fighting has been in Gao where the French Defense
Minister Le Drian visited. The official announced that several hundred
troops would be transferred from Timbuktu to Gao, leaving only 20
behind in the ancient city which centuries-ago was a center of Islamic
scholarship and international trade.

In addition to the presence of French soldiers, a contingent of troops
from neighboring Burkina Faso is operating in Timbuktu. These
Burkinabe soldiers are part of the West African regional force
mobilized by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

According to French Colonel Cyrille Zimmer, the Burkinabe troops are
taking over control of military operations in Timbuktu. He said that
“We are leaving a small detachment of 20 men who are going to operate
with the Burkinabe battalion. This detachment is going to stay in
Timbuktu while the Burkinabes are there.” (Associated Press, April 29)

There have also been efforts to draw more western states into the war
in Mali. Germany has committed to supplying military trainers through
the European Union.

The United States has been involved in Mali for many years with the
U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) supplying training, equipment and
monetary resources. However, these efforts have only created
instability inside the country.

When the junior military officers seized power in March 2012 from the
elected President Amadou Toumani Toure, these soldiers were led by a
U.S.-trained colonel, Amadou Sanogo, who had studied in several
academies set up by the Pentagon. The Pentagon has been transporting
French troops into the battle in Mali and has recently deployed 100
Special Forces in neighboring Niger in addition to establishing a
drone station there.

There has also been a call made by Michael Byers, Chair of Global
Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia
in Canada, to have Ottawa become more involved in the Malian crisis.
Byers in an editorial published in the Globe and Mail, Canada?s
leading newspaper, attempted to make an argument for the deployment of
troops to Mali.

Byers wrote on April 29 that ?Canadian soldiers would be highly valued
as ?force-multipliers? who maximize the impact of other, less
well-trained troops. For nearly half a century, Canada filled this
niche in every UN peacekeeping mission.?

He continued saying ?Although Canada has disengaged from peacekeeping
in recent years, that shift was a political decision. When Canada?s
military leaders sought to have General Andrew Leslie appointed
commander of the UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo in 2010, it was
the Harper government that intervened and claimed that Canada?s
commitments to the NATO mission in Afghanistan precluded his taking
part.?

Therefore, the priority of the Harper government was to engage in more
direct occupation efforts in Afghanistan as opposed to what would be
considered a neutral stance in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Nonetheless, the UN forces being placed in Mali could very well be
subjected to hostile fire and other military actions by locals.

This peacekeeping mission will have three obvious challenges. It will
be operating as a supposed neutral force while at the same time French
and Malian troops are continuing their offensive operations against
Ansar Dine, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa and
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Also there is a growing degree of alienation on the part of the Malian
people in relationship to both French troops and Malian soldiers.
These soldiers have been accused of committing atrocities against the
population where deaths, injuries and illegal detentions have taken
place.

Humanitarian Situation Worsens in Mali

As a result of the military coup and the subsequent civil war in the
north between Tuareg separatists and later Islamic rebel groups
fighting against the national Malian army, large-scale displacements
have taken place. The economic impact of the conflict has been
devastating to those that have forced to flee as well as people
remaining in their towns and villages.

Food prices have skyrocketed which has impacted working people and the
poor. In a recent article published in the Guardian newspaper in
London, it examines the growing food shortages in Mali where French
troops have been the most active against the targeted rebel
organizations.

According to the Guardian, ?On Thursday (April 25) four international
agencies warned that northern Mali will descend to emergency levels of
food insecurity in less than two months if conditions do not improve.
Recent food crises in the region have left many people weakened and
still in a period of recovery.? (April 29)

Even the Guardian acknowledges that the French intervention has
worsened conditions for people living in the combat areas. In addition
to cutting off supply lines it has created shortages and therefore
precipitated hyperinflation.

This same article goes on to point out that ?Food distribution has
been disrupted by the closure of the Algerian border ? an important
route for supplies into northern Mali ? and the departure of many
traders. Aid agencies say herders have been unable to use traditional
pastures and water points, while the falling value of livestock has
made it harder to buy cereals.?

With the intervention of UN peacekeepers there is still no guarantee
that the situation will normalize. If the experiences of other states
are of any indication, such as the DRC, Somalia and Sudan, the
deployment of UN forces may very well exacerbate tensions as oppose to
lessen them.

The situation in Mali requires a political solution that can only be
reached between the varying parties, governments and interest groups
involved. This issue portends much for the future of Africa and must
be seriously addressed by the African Union (AU) at their upcoming
summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

With the increasing intervention of U.S., French and other NATO
military forces in Africa, the social, political and economic
situations in various African states will inevitably worsen. African
states and regional organizations must devise a strategy to deal with
this escalation of imperialist militarism which has implications for
the continent as a whole.

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