On Tuesday French President Francois Hollande told RFI radio that the with the help of African troops being deployed, “in one more week we can restore Mali’s territorial integrity.”Judging from the circumstances, France may have a much harder time getting out of Mali.
First, as AFP reports, experts have warned that it could take months before the African troops are fully operational. Second, as veteran defence reporter Patrick Cockburn of The Independent points out, the vastness of the country means that “the central government, even with French air support, will have difficulty in eliminating the Islamists.”
France has vowed that its ground and air forces will remain in the country “until security has been restored and African forces are ready to take charge,” according to The Associated Press.
So far there have been hitches with both of those objectives.
French warplanes, with the help of U.S. warplanes, have been bombing rebel positions since Mali’s interim president asked France to help after rebels captured the town of Konna in central Mali.
On Monday France-backed forces recaptured Konna, but a French pilot was killed after rebels shot down a helicopter. French officials said that they were impressed and surprised by how well-equipped, well-armed and well-trained the rebels were.
France’s defence Ministry now says the country will “gradually deploy” a total of 2,500 troops to Mali, up from the current 800, to combine with 3,300-strong U.N.-backed African force.
Those African forces — drawn from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) — were originally expected to be ready in September but troops are now being forced to arrive before next week.
The mission will be led by Nigeria, which has cautioned that its forces are already stretched thin and not ready for the Malian mission.
“The whole thing’s a mess,” One Nigerian senior government advisor told Reuters. “We don’t have any troops with experience of those extreme conditions, even of how to keep all that sand from ruining your equipment. And we’re facing battle-hardened guys who live in those dunes.”
These developments, combined with the fact that Mali’s government is in shambles, implies that Mali’s territorial integrity or state authority will not be restored anytime soon. At least not by military intervention.
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