It's been a week since the beginning of the UN-backed French intervention in Mali, aimed at dislodging the Al Qaeda affiliated Islamist groups that control two-thirds of state territory. Yesterday, the French forces launched their first ground offensive, reports Reuters, as it became clear that the fight against the well-equipped fighters may last a lot longer than originally promised.
We don't normally venture into Sub-Saharan Africa here, but the events in Mali have the potential to reverberate far beyond the confines of this west African country. The regional threat of Al Qaeda-linked extremists was highlighted by today's hostage drama in the neighboring Algeria. A group of Islamist militants, believed to be a splinter group of the main Al Qaeda organization, seized dozens of foreign workers at a gas facility in eastern Algeria, demanding release of militants held by Algerian authorities (see BBC report).
The roots of the crisis in Mali lie in the decades-old struggle for independence by Tuareg tribesmen in the country's north, but the show has been stolen by Al Qaeda's north African branch, which has been expanded its activities into the region over the past few years. The "Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb" has forged links with Tuareg rebels, local Islamists, and various criminal groups, becoming one of Al Qaeda's wealthiest affiliates.
French President François Hollande said that the goal of the operation was "to ensure that when we leave, when we end our intervention, Mali is safe, has legitimate authorities, an electoral process and there are no more terrorists threatening its territory." The French public supports the operation but, writes Tony Karon in The Time, the echoes of Afghanistan are difficult to suppress.
Read more: The Reasons for French Intervention in Mali
Photo via longwarjournal.com