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France Strikes Mali; ‘Many Deaths’
« on: January 13, 2013, 07:53:23 AM »
Posted on: 6:39 pm, January 12, 2013, by Jessica Dabrowski
http://fox8.com/


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By Katarina Hoije, Greg Botelho and Pierre Meilhan

BAMAKO, Mali (CNN) — An effort to halt advancing militant Islamist forces has resulted in “many deaths” in northern Mali, a military spokesman said — with the fatalities including Malian soldiers, insurgents and a French pilot killed in a helicopter raid.

Mali is being joined by France — its former colonial ruler, which recently sent troops there — as it tries to beat back advances by forces linked to al Qaeda. Much action recently has focused in and around the key northern city of Konna, which insurgents took on Thursday only to retreat the following day after a combined air and ground assault.

“There were many deaths on both sides, both rebels and government soldiers,” Malian defense ministry spokesman Lt. Col. Diara Kone said Saturday of the fighting in the northern part of the country. The government, in a statement read on state TV, said 11 of its soldiers died and about 60 were wounded in the battle for Konna.

The French pilot died while taking part Friday afternoon in an aerial operation targeting a terrorist group moving on the town of Mopti, near Konna, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.

The aerial offensive — which includes strikes by French fighter jets — continued through Friday night and into Saturday, the minister added.

“Every means was used in fighting the Islamists, including two attack helicopters. They sent the Islamists fleeing,” Kone told CNN. “This shows that the Malian army is capable to fight.”

French President Francois Hollande also cheered after “a blow was delivered and heavy losses were inflicted,” which he credited in part to the efforts of his nation’s troops.

“But our mission is not over,” he said Saturday.

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Re: France Strikes Mali; ‘Many Deaths’
« Reply #1 on: January 13, 2013, 07:55:29 AM »
The Islamist forces’ movement in recent days from their strongholds in the deserts of northern Mali prompted France to help address what Le Drian called a “serious” and deteriorating situation, even as France has resisted efforts to get involved in curbing other rebellions in such former colonies as the Central African Republic.

Mali’s interim President Dioncounda Traore declared a state of emergency nationwide Friday and called for “a general mobilization” to defend against the radical Islamists’ advance.

“Terrorist groups want to destabilize the country,” the French minister said. “We are determined to prevent them doing so, within the strict framework of international law.”


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Re: France Strikes Mali; ‘Many Deaths’
« Reply #2 on: January 13, 2013, 07:55:58 AM »
Radical Islamists make push southward

After decades of military rule, Mali held its first democratic elections in 1992. It remained stable politically until March, when a group of soldiers toppled the government, saying it had not provided adequate support for them to fight ethnic Tuareg rebels in the country’s largely desert north.

Tuareg rebels, who’d sought independence for decades, took advantage of the power vacuum and seized swaths of land. A power struggle then erupted in the north between the Tuaregs and local al Qaeda-linked radicals, who themselves wound up in control of a large area as the Tuaregs retreated.

The United Nations says amputations, floggings and public executions — like the stoning of a couple in July, who’d reportedly had an affair — became common in areas controlled by radical Islamists. They applied a strict interpretation of Sharia law by banning music, smoking, drinking and watching sports on television, and damaged Timbuktu’s historic tombs and shrines.

Already, the armed groups’ activity — along with a pervasive drought — has led hundreds of thousands of Malians to be displaced.

And the Islamists’ movement southward has raised concerns among leaders in West Africa and elsewhere, some of them calling for swift and decisive military intervention to aid Mali’s government, based in Bamako.

Kone, the Mali military spokesman, said members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) would start sending troops to Bamako on Sunday.

Several hundred French troops have been deployed to Mali, where about 6,000 French citizens live, according to Le Drian.

“Our determination to combat terrorism is total,” the French defense minister said. “France will do all it can to combat the jihadist groups who have launched this offensive in recent days.”

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Re: France Strikes Mali; ‘Many Deaths’
« Reply #3 on: January 13, 2013, 07:57:06 AM »
‘The terrorists’ breakthrough must be stopped’

Hollande said the influx of troops from his nation and others is to “allow Mali to recover its territorial integrity in accordance with U.N. Security Council resolutions.”

“France, in this operation, is not pursuing any interest … other than safeguarding a friendly country, and (France) does not have any goal other than fighting against terrorism,” the French president said Saturday. “That is why its action is supported by the international community and saluted by all African countries.”

Though its troops are posted in locations around Africa, French leaders earlier said they wouldn’t send combat troops to Mali and that they’d scale back France’s military interventions on the continent.

So its decision to get involved in Mali, an operation Hollande said “will last as long as necessary,” underlies the seriousness of France’s concern about the situation there.

French hostages have been taken in neighboring Niger by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and Paris appears intent on containing any further militant expansion in the heart of Africa.

“The terrorists’ breakthrough must be stopped,” said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, justifying France’s efforts “to train and reshape the Malian army.” “If not, (all of) Mali falls into their hands, with a threat to the whole of Africa and Europe.”

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Re: France Strikes Mali; ‘Many Deaths’
« Reply #4 on: January 13, 2013, 07:58:28 AM »
The U.N. Security Council last month authorized a one-year military peacekeeping mission in the country. ECOWAS members pledged thousands of troops, and the Security Council has urged other nations to contribute forces as well.

Hollande spoke Saturday evening with British Prime Minister David Cameron, who consented for the United Kingdom to “provide logistical military assistance to help transport foreign troops and equipment quickly to Mali” — but no “British personnel in a combat role” — a Downing Street spokesman said.

France has been in contact with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta about the situation, as well as its African and European allies, according to Le Drian.

The U.S. military is weighing its options — which could include logistical support and intelligence sharing with France — said a U.S. defense official, who declined to be named because no decisions have been made.

“This is a serious issue, and … the United States is committed to going after terrorists wherever they may be in order to protect American interests, but also those of our partners and allies around the world,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said this week.

Journalist Katarina Hoije reported from Bamako, while CNN’s Pierre Meilhan and Greg Botelho reported and wrote the story from Atlanta. CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark, Joe Sterling, Karen Smith and Saskya Vandoorne contributed to this report.


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Re: France Strikes Mali; ‘Many Deaths’
« Reply #5 on: January 20, 2013, 01:39:35 PM »
Mali must not become another Afghanistan
by Debasish Mitra
JANUARY 20, 2013


French intervention in Mali is a classic example for history repeating itself. In 1893, France achieved its victory in West Africa's upper Niger River basin, now called Mali, only after El Hajj Umar, a charismatic but a fanatical warlord died in an explosion of a gunpowder cache in 1864. Mali, almost after 120 years has come back to haunt its former imperial ruler — France. Umar had toppled the Bambara kingdoms along the banks of the Niger and posed the greatest ever challenge to the French rule in West Africa.

The adversaries are back once again and so are the French, probably in their final showdown that began way back 120 years ago. A coalition of radical and jihadi groups, Ansar Dine, the Movement for Oneness, Jihad in West Africa and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, have retaken Timbuktu threatening the entire swath of space that lay in upper Niger and Senegal Rivers. It then took almost three decades for France to wrest control of the region where Umar had set up Tukulor Empire.

The empire may have collapsed long ago but the spirit that threatened the French hegemony had never really died. And like energy, it only transformed and metamorphosed into a diehard hatred for anything and everything that is Western and is even remotely related to the United States. Jihad against the West kept burning on the back burner till it was resurrected by Al Qaeda. Mali, since past half a decade, has turned into an "Al Qaeda Country" and into what Peter Chilson says: "the largest al Qaeda-controlled space in the world, an area a little larger than France itself. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has warned that Mali could become a "permanent haven for terrorists and organized criminal networks."

Professor in the Security Studies Programme of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service and the research director of the Saban Centre for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, Daniel Byman, has been rather unequivocal in his assertion that Al Qaeda was and is still very much alive in Africa. In fact, Qaeda has been more than successful in ejecting itself out of Afghanistan in the wake of the American attacks, found a safer haven in north and west of Africa and has survived the US drone strikes in both Arabian Peninsula and Islamic Maghreb. "A witches' brew of … jihadists is stirring up trouble across the continent."

The question today is how much does Mali matter to the world, especially to Europe and the United States. Apparently, it matters. Not too long ago, in December last year to be exact, General Carter F. Ham, commander of the US Africa Command, sounded an alarm bell saying that Al Qaeda was "using northern Mali as a training centre and base for recruiting across Africa, the Middle East, and Europe." In fact, the radicals "operating in northern Mali have been linked to Boko Haram, the violent … group based in northern Nigeria, and to Ansar Al Sharia, a group in Libya which has been linked to the attack on the US consulate at Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans."

But, can these be reasons good enough to warrant yet another US intervention into another foreign land? French intervention to halt insurgents' march from north of Mali to south of the country has flagged off an animated debate on what should be the role of Washington, especially in view of its pronounced policy to wage an endless war against terror.

America's involvement in Africa is telltale. In 2012 alone the United States carried out more drone strikes in Africa than in Pakistan and Afghanistan taken together. Yet, direct US engagement in Mali is not warranted. And because, the local insurgent groups with all their brutality and ferocity, have only been fighting to advance their local or regional ambitions. Their links with Al Qaeda is more perceived and none of them, at least as of now, has either the capability or nurse any ambition to take their fight against America or Europe.

But, can the world afford to ignore these Malian insurgents and allow them to grow stronger till they achieve power and capabilities to stand against the United States and other countries? So when observers appear smug and complacent saying, "Mali is not the next Afghanistan" they are either seeking to take refuge in the sandy deserts of Africa or are living in their own paradise.

Al Qaeda's modus operandi has always been to leverage domestic unrests, recruit dissidents and indoctrinate them into violence to conquer space. Mali fits the bill well for Al Qaeda and the situation there is worse than in Yemen and Somalia. We are afraid, Mali, thus, will not take decades to turn into another Afghanistan.

French intervention in Mali is certainly justified and ought to be seen, even if it turns protracted, as a pre-emptive measure to prevent creation of another Afghanistan. Fall of Mali to the insurgents must be prevented because if so happens it will set off a contagion, worse than the Arab Spring. Al Qaeda's aspiration to set up a caliphate will then be only a matter of time.   

The author is the Opinion Editor of Times of Oman.




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