Military forces of the African Union are ready to enter the north of Mali to suppress Islamist uprisings. The plan of the operation aimed at restoration of legitimate authority must be submitted to the UN by November 27. So far, the West only promised to help with the logistics, but the strong army of Chad that has experience of conducting military actions in the desert and air force is ready to fight immediately.
On November 11th at the summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), held in Nigeria with the leaders of the Maghreb and South Africa, it was decided to send 3.3 thousand soldiers to Mali for one year to resolve the crisis in the north of the country. It was assumed that the forces will be formed by Nigeria, Senegal, Niger, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Togo. The participation of Mauritania, Chad, and South Africa is not ruled out.
The chairman of the African Union Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma arrived on Wednesday to Paris, where he met with President Francois Hollande to discuss the involvement of the West in the operation. Speaking at the press conference, both stressed that during the preparation for the invasion that is to last about six months, efforts will be made to resolve the issue peacefully. “We want the sound power to distance themselves from terrorists. Obviously, if we can return the territorial integrity of Mali peacefully, it would be the best case scenario,” said Dlamini-Zuma. Hollande said that France would assist in logistics and had no intention to send troops or support aircraft to Mali. Germany, Italy and other western countries suggested sending military experts to Mali. The goal is to bring Mali’s army to fighting condition. “This will take months, not weeks,” said the U.S. General Carter Ham during his visits to Berlin and Paris.
However, air support can play a decisive role in defeating the Islamists. This belief is shared by many African analysts, for example, the speaker of the National Assembly of Côte d’Ivoire, an expert on military matters, Guillaume Soro. If France provides assistance, it will be limited to satellite reconnaissance and unmanned aircraft, Soro said. He is counting on the participation of the powerful armies of South Africa and Chad.
Chadian President Idriss Deby on November 14th confirmed that his country would take part in the formation of a contingent of African forces. Chadian armed forces that involve 30,000 people have high morale and are well trained to conduct military operations in a desert environment. They are equipped with modern small arms, combat helicopters Mi-17 and Mi-8, and aerial reconnaissance aircraft and SU fighters.
The decisions of the African Union and the apparent activity in the West have caused a reaction in the rebel regions of Mali. The power in the region is shared between the following groups: the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) represented by “secular” Tuaregs and Islamist groups – “defenders of Islam” (Ansar Dine), “Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa” (MUJAO) and “Al- Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb “(AQMI).
At a press conference held in Paris last week, the MNLA confirmed that they were in opposition to the Islamists but did not support military intervention, saying this was their internal matter. “We all agree that terrorists must be destroyed, but we question the effectiveness of the chosen form of intervention,” said Hamma Ag Mahmud, chairman of the International Relations Department of the transitional State Council of the self-proclaimed state of Azavad, AFP reported.
However, MNLA does not enjoy the greatest influence in Mali. The most influential group is the Islamist Ansar Dine that also consists of the Tuareg. Its leaders have announced that they would abandon their original plan to spread Sharia across the country, limiting it to Kidal region (north-east). Hamada Ag Bibi, a member of Ansar Dine delegation in Burkina Faso, told AFP that they would abandon the idea of enforcing Sharia law throughout Mali, except in their Kidal region, where Sharia is applied in accordance with their beliefs.
Despite this retreat, the African contingent will probably still enter Mali in six months or earlier. In addition to the solid leadership position of Chad, this is reinforced by the change in the position of Algeria. Under pressure from the U.S., the government refused to support Ansar Dine and promised to “close the border” with Mali in case of the introduction of foreign troops.
However, the outcome of the confrontation is not certain. Even if the Islamists are removed from power, the Tuareg Azavada would insist on holding a referendum on self-determination. Will the transitional government in Bamako counter these separatist sentiments? The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said that this year the country will be in recession due to poor harvest and difficulties in the tourism sector that suffered because of the coup. The country’s army is unreliable and weak both in technical and moral terms. Most likely, developments according to the Somali scenario can be expected where African troops have been fighting against the Islamists for years, but the weak central government does not help to consolidate the results.