Thursday, April 05, 2012

Over? I Doubt It

Mali rebels in the north say the war is over:

Mali's MNLA separatist rebels announced they had ended their fight to create an "Azawad" state on the edge of the Sahara on Thursday after achieving their goal amid a political crisis that has paralyzed southern capital.

The ceasefire was announced ahead of a meeting of army chiefs from West Africa's ECOWAS bloc in Ivory Coast, where they will try and hammer out a plan for military intervention in Mali, which experts fear has become a security vacuum for al Qaeda cells and smugglers to exploit.

ECOWAS doesn't think it is over. Separatism is a bad precedent to let stand for African countries with lots of actual and potential separatists.

And the United Nations is concerned over a bigger issue:

The U.N. Security Council said on Wednesday it was worried by al Qaeda's presence in Mali and warned that Islamist extremists could further weaken security in the West African country where a military coup last month has bolstered a separatist rebellion.

In its third statement since the March 22 coup by renegade soldiers angry at the Mali government's failure to stamp out the rebellion in the north of the country, the 15-nation Security Council again called for the restoration of constitutional rule.

The council also threw its support behind efforts by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to restore order in Mali. U.N. political affairs chief Lynn Pascoe told the council on Tuesday that ECOWAS had placed some 3,000 troops on standby to deal with the coup and rebellion in Mali.

So the UN doesn't think it is over and backs ECOWAS, which doesn't think it is over and has troops on standby.

Of course, 3,000 troops drawn from a variety of countries is not going to defeat rebels who defeated the Mali army. Yes, the Mali troops were demoralized by the coup in the south, but if the MNLA and their al Qaeda friends are going to be defeated, it won't be from the Mali army in the short run or ECOWAS troops.

That's where France comes in:

France warned on Wednesday the seizure of northern Mali by a Tuareg-led rebellion was playing into the hands of local al Qaeda units, urging neighbors including Algeria to do more to tackle the threat. ...

France, the former colonial ruler, is Mali's fourth-largest donor of aid - a vital source of income in one of the world's poorest countries - and it also trains and equips government forces. Since the rebellion, it has suspended its cooperation, but has maintained aid to the population and advised its 5,000 citizens living in the West African state to leave.

Just wait for the nuance. If France sends a French Foreign Legion paratrooper regiment to lead ECOWAS and Mali's army north--under the approving nods of the UN--they will drive the separatists out of the cities and bases in short order. France has traditionally intervened in this region to back their friends (please note this in Washington, D.C.).

I wouldn't be surprised if American transport aircraft helped to move the French or ECOWAS forces. We've done that before.

Not that this will end the separatist threat, but the idea will be to knock down the MNLA enough to allow Mali troops with some short-term bolstering by ECOWAS and French forces to hold the cities and bases to restore the situation to its former messy status quo.

Let's see if the Mali coup leaders can promise what they need to promise to get the French-led counter-attack in motion.

UPDATE: More ammunition for French intervention.

UPDATE: France is playing hard to get:

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Thursday there could only be a resolution to the Tuareg-led rebellion in the north of Mali via political dialogue and called for regional cooperation to fight al Qaeda's expansion in the area.

I imagine the main problem is that France doesn't want to side with the Mali coup leaders despite France's call to fight al Qaeda. Somehow, I bet France wants the Mali factions to agree to unite against an al Qaeda santuary before leading an expedition north.

But I'm guessing, of course. The key is what France is willing to do at this point and their conditions for acting.

UPDATE: Something is up. The rebels declare independence as the state of Azawad. France refuses to recognize that independence because African states don't recognize it. And the Burkino Faso foreign minister says to watch for an announcement that sanctions on the Mali coup-led government will be lifted.

Now, granted, I can be falling prey to the problem of interpreting information through my lens of assuming France is leaning toward the option of leading an intervention.

But I assume African states don't want to legitimize a coup; African states don't want jihadis on the loose; African leaders don't want secession to succeed; France and the West don't want al Qaeda on the loose; and that the coup leaders were sincere in staging a coup in order to fight the northern rebels more resolutely.

With those assumptions, will the coup leaders agree to some type of return to power of the old Mali government (with immunity for coup leaders and maybe some coup leaders getting "national unity" positions in the government) that leads to a French-led counter-offensive to restore Mali control of the north with ECOWAS troops providing troops for diplomatic purposes and guard duty?

UPDATE: Hey, even The Washington Post editorializes that NATO owes Mali a rescue effort:

France, which led the NATO intervention in Libya and employed its troops to defend democracy in Ivory Coast last year, appears ready to assist the possible intervention, at least logistically. Paris, as well as its NATO partners, should perceive a moral obligation, as well as a tangible national security interest, in restoring Mali’s previous order. The West should not allow its intervention in Libya to lead to the destruction of democracy — and entrenchment of Islamic militants — in a neighboring state.

Dang. We're almost in "rush to war" territory here.

UPDATE: Nope. Not over:

Under intense pressure from the nations bordering Mali, the junior officer who seized control of the country in a coup last month signed an accord late Friday, agreeing to return the nation to constitutional rule.

The head of their national assembly will form an interim government until new elections are held. No word on the role of the coup participants. ECOWAS is looking at intervening.

We'll see if a small number of French warplanes could support a small, fragmented ECOWAS force and a possibly demoralized Mali armed forces to counter-attack the separatists in the north. I'd still guess a spearhead by a French Foreign Legion para regiment (1,500-3,000, depending on how much of a regiment is sent) is needed to have a core trained force to prevent this from dragging out. If the worry is al Qaeda will flow in, you want this over sooner rather than later.

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