France Announces Military Intervention in Mali

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and French Defense Secretary Jean-Yves Le Drian at the Pentagon, May 19, 2012.
Photo: of Defense

France, former colonial power of North Africa, has recently taken a vocal leadership role in the conflict in northern Mali.

The Tuareg Rebellion in January of this year marked the commencement of violence and instability in the northern desert region of Mali.  The Tuaregs have historically been seen as protesters and separatists opposing the government.  Recent violence in Libya and North Africa aggravated the domestic tensions.

In March, following the Tuareg Rebellion, there was a military coup d’état, overthrowing the President and Armed Forces commander-in-chief, Amadou Touomani Touré.  His second term in office was to conclude earlier this year.  A complaint of the new military government, organized by the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) is that the previous government was not adequately handling the Tuareg Rebellion uprising.

French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian announced October 16 a French military intervention in Mali, coming within a few weeks. As of now, France is sending surveillance drones to the region.  Additionally, the African Union is collaborating a separate military intervention, with a forty-five day timetable from the United Nations.

In the past week, hundreds of armed Islamists from the surrounding Sahara region have poured into northern Mali.  Le Drian fears that the instability in the region to date poses a general threat to Europe for two main reasons: trafficking and increased social schisms that could lead to a divide.  A current concern of the international community as a whole is the potential onset of Al-Qaida in the tumultuous region.  The sudden increase of foreign Islamists, who support the current military leadership, means it would be very easy for Al-Qaida to find a safe-haven in the chaos.

Another focus of concern is the welfare of the north Malian citizens.  Peter Maurer, president of the Red Cross, visited the region and calls for 20 million Euros in humanitarian aid.  He is concerned that, after being occupied by Islamists for the majority of this year, a military intervention could ignite serious violence in the region.  Additionally, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), a branch of the United Nations, estimates that over 410,000 people have fled due to the rebel occupation and conflict.  Those who are fleeing are in danger of poor living conditions, lack of basic resources, and safety.

Earlier this year, the African Union suspended Mali as a reaction to the military coup, preventing this rebel leadership from playing a role in the organization. The African Union lifted this suspension Wednesday October 24, as the African Union and the international community as a whole wish to quickly restore a democratic government and to revive respect for the state. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has expressed this concern, calling for “the organization of free, fair, and transparent elections.”

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