A French Rafale fighter jet lands after a bombing raid over Nortehrn Mali. Photograph Nicolas-Nelson Richard/AFP/Getty Images
It may be too early to tell whether Mali could be the next protracted war of attrition involving Western military forces.
But before considering such a dire forecast for Mali becoming the next Afghanistan, Iraq or Viet Nam, lets look at some of the recent developments catapulting that country into a war now with Western forces directly engaged in the fighting.
As we know five days ago French President Francois Hollande sent French war planes and attack helicopters into Mali to repel an Islamist militant advance moving toward the capital, Bamako.
Some hundreds of French ground forces, now numbering 800 have arrived from the Ivory Coast into the capital with that force expected to reach 2,500 troops. A Western African military force of some 3,300 soldiers is currently being assembled and is expected to be deployed in a week with the French in a "support role" only.
Mali, a former French colony, which gained its independence in 1960, now has some 6,000 French nationals in Bamako, which apparently prompted Hollande to take direct military action with the Islamist militants within days of reaching the capital.
In fact the Islamists were actually late comers into strife within Mali, had no part in the coup ousting Malian President Amedou Toumani Toure or the defection of many top military commanders and their troops to the other side, (reportedly in the heat of battle). This other side was composed mainly of secular, ethnic Tuaregs indigenous to Northern Mali (as well as Southern Nigeria, Southwestern Libya and Western Niger).
Tuareg fighters took part in the Libyan civil war on the side of Muammar Qaddafi and when he fell and that war ended these Tuaregs with guns, ammo and equipment returned to Mali. Soon thereafter these battle hardened Tuareg fighters, fresh from fighting in Libya, and along with local Tuareg insurgents (that had been rebelling against the Malian government for over 50 years) declared a separate country, Azawad, independent of Mali. This declaration created a crisis in Bamako and the subsequent coup ousting president Toure.
Significantly, Islamic militants which also took part in the Libyan civil war departed that country soon after the fall of Qaddafi and with internal strife gripping Mali joined with secular Tuaregs in Northern Mali in fighting against a demoralized Malian army particularly after the defections of many top Malian commanders.
However, this new "alliance" was short lived and soon disintegrated over strategic differences and ultimate aims of the new foes. The secular Tuaregs wanted independence from Mali but also a dialogue with the government. And they were no match against these more battle hardened Islamist militants. The Islamists had other ideas and quickly established Sharia Law in the towns and villages it captured, now capitalizing on the now weakened Malian army to stop their advance toward the South with the ultimate aim of overtaking Bamako.
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