The international intervention in Mali has finally begun: French troops are on the ground and warplanes in the sky, helping Malian soldiers fight Islamist militants who have taken over the northern part of the country. Just in the past few days the (loosely but dangerously) al Qaeda-linked militants advanced south toward the capital, panicking residents and accelerating international plans to come to the rescue.
“France’s military started an air operation Friday to help Malian soldiers fight radical Islamists,” reports the Associated Press. The pilots join French and German special operations soldiers already on the ground in Mali, according to Stratfor: “After significant territorial gains by jihadist fighters in early January, French and German special operations forces reportedly were sent to support defensive operations in the Mopti region.” With Cote d’Ivoire and Libya this is the third African country in which French soldiers have intervened in the past year.
Over the past few days the, fighters have advanced south to the edge of Mopti. Today Mali’s president declared a state of emergency. The LA Times reports:
Government forces lost control of the central city of Konna on Thursday, Ansar Dine spokesman Sanda Abu Mohammed told the Associated Press. The reported advance by the rebels is a serious blow to the army, threatening a nearby military airport and throwing into question whether Malian forces can protect areas farther south if the rebels press onward.
This story changes almost by the minute, so stay tuned for updates. One thing to watch out for: Will the Obama administration “lead from behind” again, in another African intervention? What might the afterparty look like this time?