Chadian Forces Arrive in Mali, America “Dragging Its Feet”

As West African troops pour into Mali, the United States are reluctant to get involved.

A Canadian C-17 transport aircraft prepared for takeoff at the Istres-Le Tubé Air Base in the south of France, January 18
A Canadian C-17 transport aircraft prepared for takeoff at the Istres-Le Tubé Air Base in the south of France, January 18 (Ministère de la Défense)

Military forces from the Republic of Chad advanced toward the border of Mali on Tuesday after central government and French troops had pushed rebels out of Douentza in the central part of the country. The French repelled insurgents from Diabaly on Monday, the southernmost town they had conquered before the former colonizer intervened in Mali’s civil war more than a week ago.

An armored column of Chadian troops, experienced in desert warfare, moved north from the Niger capital Niamey on Tuesday to the Malian border where Nigerien forces were already stationed.

France launched airstrikes against insurgent targets in the north of Mali eleven days ago to halt their advance on the capital Bamako. According to the country’s defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, France will accept nothing short of the “total reconquest” of Mali from Islamist militants. He told French television on Sunday that it “will not leave any pockets” of resistance.

French troops in Mali currently number over 2,000 and could be boosted to more than 3,000 in the coming days and weeks. The government in Paris has urged the swift deployment of a West African security force to Mali that is mandated by the United Nations Security Council to suppress the Islamist uprising in the desert and mountainous north. Benin, Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Togo, all former French colonies, have presently committed up to 1,000 troops to the war effort. French fighter jets have been operating from N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, as well as metropolitan France. Attack helicopters were stationed in Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso.

An entry into Mali from Niger by part of the African force would widen the front of operations against the rebel alliance that includes Al Qaeda’s North African wing and local Islamist and Tuareg secessionist groups, bolstered by fighters that were displaced by Arab and Western powers’ intervention in Libya’s civil war in 2011 and Algerian counterterrorism operations in recent years.

Niger’s president Mahamadou Issoufou, who visited troops in his northern province, condemned the Malian Islamist uprising and told his soldiers, “We are going to war.”

Before the weekend, Nigeria’s legislature approved President Goodluck Jonathan’s request for the deployment of 1,200 soldiers for “limited combat duty” in Mali. David Mark, a ruling party member and president of the Senate, said, “The situation is such that if we don’t get involved, we may not be able to cope with the consequences and that it is on that basis I think we should act and act fast.”

Foreign powers fear that the Islamist uprising in the north of Mali will provide a breeding ground for terrorist attacks elsewhere in Africa as well as in Europe. French president François Hollande said last week that Mali could have become a “terrorist state” if his nation hadn’t intervened.

In support of the French effort, the United States have begun transporting French soldiers and military equipment to Mali from the Istres-Le Tubé Air Base near Marseille. Some thirty American airlifts are expected to run for about a week. Other NATO allies that have aided in the transport of French materiel are Belgium, Canada, Denmark and the United Kingdom. British special forces are on the ground to advise and help coordinate the French-Malian operation. The Italian lower house of parliament approved the deployment of military instructors and agreed to provide logistical support on Tuesday.

The United States are reluctant to deepen their involvement in the mission. French officials told the Financial Times that the Obama Administration is “dragging its feet” on a request for air tankers to help fuel French fighter jets. “Our current fleet of tankers is not sufficient to keep Rafale and the Mirage 2000D operating on a permanent basis above an operational theater of this scale,” said the French although they praised Washington’s support in providing intelligence and reconnaissance over Mali by means of surveillance drones.

American hesitation may stem in part from its previous counterterrorism efforts in the African country. The United States armed and helped train Malian forces only to have them join the insurgency. In March of last year, Captain Amadou Sanogo and Malian soldiers that were trained by the United States staged an army coup in Bamako that forced Congress to cut off American support for the government there.