The Associates Press reports that France is soon to deploy surveillance drones to West Africa and is holding secret talks with American officials in Paris to organize a multilateral intervention in Mali. Meanwhile, radical Islamists from across the region are moving into northern Mali to sustain the insurgency there.
After the toppling of Muammar al-Gaddafi last year, mercenaries that were once employed by the Libyan regime fled to Mali where some joined the Muslim uprising in the north of the country against the central government in the Christian south. Six Frenchmen are currently held hostage by Islamists in the area.
The fear that the north of Mali becomes a safe haven for extremists is corroborated by a Voice of America report about Egyptian and Tunisian militants appearing in the region to join the fight.
France has hundreds of troops stationed across French-speaking West Africa, in Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon and Senegal, but would prefer to see an African military intervention in Mali rather than going it alone. The United States have no full-time presence in the area. Last month’s attack on the American mission in Benghazi, Libya was a painful reminder, though, of the rising terror threat in the Sahel.
Two Islamist umbrella groups operate in the region: Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which came out of Algeria, and Ansar Dine, a Tuareg group that operates in Niger and Mali. The latter was able to take control of northern Mali in March of this year, including the famed city of Timbuktu, and has since imposed Islamic law there.
In order to crush Ansar Dine, Miguel Nunes Silva wrote at the Atlantic Sentinel earlier this month, France and its allies may well have to prop up mainstream Tuareg groups in the north “and thus further cement the secession of Azawad.”