Thursday, October 25, 2012

March or Die

Without 3,000 French troops as the core of a counter-attack force in Mali, I have no idea how anybody expects to scrape together 7,000 to 10,000 troops to retake the major urban centers of northern Mali.

The French are concerned but don't want to commit troops to ejecting jihadis from northern Mali where they hijacked the Tuareg rebellion there:

As many as 7,000 to 10,000 soldiers may be needed to take back and hold the north, United Nations officials have said, and the barriers to compiling such a force are evident. Nigeria, with the largest army in West Africa, is tied up with a fight against its own Islamist radicals. Algeria, often considered to have easily the most efficient force in the region, has been reluctant to get involved, though it may be coming around, officials said.

France, plagued by kidnappings of its citizens (about half a dozen are being held) and fearful of a radical enclave so close to the Mediterranean, has been the most vocal about kicking out the Islamists. On Monday, its special representative to the region, Jean Felix-Paganon, said that France had resumed its military aid to Mali, and a defense expert briefed by the French government said it would send intelligence drones to West Africa by the end of the year to help intervention efforts.

But France, like the United States, has ruled out sending its own troops into the fray.

Please. Where do the 7,000 minimum come from if France stands aside?

ECOWAS, the regional body of west African nations, keeps promising 3,300 troops. But by being drawn from a variety of nations, this force is hardly capable of spearheading the assault.

Mali's army had 7,000 troops before the coup attempt that decimated the Mali armed forces and made them unable to hold the north in the first place. I have no idea how many effectives there are now. But even assuming foreign trainers whip the army into a semblance of shape, contenders in the suspended civil war won't want to send their best forces north when the real action for control of the government is in the south. How many third rate troops could be sent north barely capable of garrisoning towns and bases? A thousand or two?

Who else contributes to get to the minimum of 7,000? Only France will do the job. That's been my position from the start. Before the start, too, for that matter.

Put in a French Foreign Legion regimental combat team with 3,000 trained and cohesive troops (backed by air power) to lead the ECOWAS second-stringers and the Mali bench warmers, and you have a shot. Toss in a couple hundred US and French special forces guys to round it out, and you're talking a real force. Especially if the Tuaregs can be persuaded to abandon the jihadis in exchange for increased autonomy in the north.

France is moving assets. I suspect that France doesn't want to say they will provide the troops to provide a real offensive force until they manage to rescue French hostages held by the Mali jihadis as an insurance policy that France doesn't take the lead in this operation.

We could help move the French troops quickly once the hostages are safe, to exploit the opportunity quickly.

The plan is already being written:

An African plan for military intervention in Mali to help government troops reclaim territory from Islamist militants will be ready within weeks, the head of the African Union (AU) said on Wednesday.

But if the Foreign Legion doesn't march as part of the plan, hopes of crushing the Mali jihadi sanctuary will die.