France reiterated the need for foreign intervention in Mali on Tuesday after the country’s interim premier Cheick Modibo Diarra was forced to resign by the army. “These developments underline the need for the rapid deployment of an African stabilization force,” said a French Foreign Ministry spokesman.
Diarra became acting prime minister in April after the West African nation’s military had staged a coup d’état a month before, dissatisfied with the government’s handling of a separatist rebellion in the north of the country.
While France reportedly deployed spy drones to the area in October and has held talks with African and American officials to organize a multilateral intervention, the United States are far from convinced that such an effort is viable at present. Susan Rice, the American ambassador to the United Nations, reportedly described a French plan to retake control of northern Mali from a coalition of Islamists as “crap.”
Colum Lynch reports for Foreign Policy that Rice’s assessment reflects deep misgiving about the Malian army’s ability to suppress the insurgency, even if it supported by several thousands of troops from neighboring Western African nations.
Rice’s candor also deals a setback to a long, drawn out effort by France and West African countries to secure UN Security Council mandate for a regional intervention force in Mali.
The New York Times reported in October that Algeria had signaled its approval for an intervention even if could provoke radical Islamists within its own borders. William Burns, the American deputy secretary of state, traveled to Algiers over the weekend to prod the government there into deepening its involvement in Mali.
In the Security Council on Monday, Rice cautioned that an attempt to contain the unrest in northern Mali will require a regional effort to combat transitional crime, including drug trafficking. “The rise of violent extremism and organized crime across the region is aggravating the situation in Mali,” she said.
Compounding the difficulty of putting down the Islamist insurgency is that involves two separate factions: the Tuareg Ansar Dine which is native to the region and also operates in neighboring Niger and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, originally an Algerian terrorist organization.
After the toppling of Muammar al-Gaddafi’s regime in Libya last year, mercenaries that were once employed by the dictator fled to Mali and joined the Tuareg uprising against the central government in the Christian south. As Algeria pressed its own fight against Islamic militants in the Saharan desert, fighters associated with the Al Qaeda group also fled southward. It seems the two Islamist factions have since forced out the mainstream Tuareg separatists who have been fighting for independence for almost a century.
France has hundreds of troops stationed across French-speaking West Africa, in Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon and Senegal, but would rather support a regional peacekeeping effort than going it alone. The United States have no full-time military presence in the area.