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International Jihadis Descend on Mali

Any possible intervention in Mali is weeks away, Xan Rice reports for the FT. Moreover, it is uncertain at this point who exactly would do the “intervening”, whether those forces will be prepared to face the jihadis, and what the situation on the ground in Mali really is.

Under the French proposal, the European Union will train 3,000 Malian soldiers. About 3,300 Ecowas troops from countries such as Nigeria will join them in the capital Bamako. Then the joint force will head into the desert to confront the militants of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar Dine and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in west Africa.

This may seem a reasonable idea; few within Mali or outside doubt that force is needed to reclaim the north. Yet outside intervention also brings with it the possibility of a disastrous, protracted conflict, especially given the rebels’ mobility and the harsh terrain. And for all France’s enthusiasm, there remains little clarity as to how and when this African-led operation will take place. . .

Algeria is not part of Ecowas but it is the most powerful military force in the region and its co-operation is essential if the wider problem of jihadism and drugs and arms smuggling in the Sahel is to be contained.

Wary of having Ecowas troops near its border – and of the role of France, with whom relations are complicated – Algeria prefers a political settlement in northern Mali rather than confrontation.

What is certain is that all over the world jihadis and jihadi wanna-bes have a new destination: northern Mali, where the ill-judged war in Libya has created a safe haven for some of the worst people in the world.

It’s been six months since an al-Qaeda-friendly zone was established in northern Mali. Now it looks as if there will be many months more before anything happens to disturb the peace of the jihadi training camps there.

Not since Osama and friends were able to sit peacefully in Afghanistan and plot air strikes against the U.S. have so many dangerous and experienced jihadis had so much time on their hands to train new recruits and plan new strikes. And despite the boasts from Washington that Al-Qaeda is on its last legs, there are plenty of signs that the global jihadi movement is more flexible and has more manpower than before.

It’s worth noting that the U.S. government is lobbying for delay; officials only want the war to take place in northern Mali after free elections have been held in southern Mali. No doubt democracy in Mali is a noble (though, one suspects, not a very practical short-term) goal, but DC policy makers are going to look pretty feckless if the jihadis use the extra time to plan attacks against the U.S.

Time to send in the drones?

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