Fighters from the Al Qaeda-linked Islamist group MUJWA, pictured on Aug. 7, 2012. The U.S. is considering drone strikes against a similar terrorist group, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, after four Americans were killed in a Libya attack last month.

By Daniel Flynn — West African states must deploy a military force in north Mali quickly or it will become increasingly difficult and costly to oust armed groups there, Ivory Coast Prime Minister Daniel Kablan Duncan said in an interview. Duncan, a former foreign minister, said that calls from Washington and elsewhere for a delay in introducing a force of 3,300 African troops were misguided as this would increase the risk of militant attacks in West Africa and beyond.
The UN Security Council tasked West African states in October with preparing a plan for military intervention to wrest control of north Mali from armed groups, which seized control of the vast desert region following a military coup in April.
In recent weeks, however, Washington has pressed for political negotiations and said any military action would require time. The head of UN peacekeeping, Herve Ladsous, said no intervention could take place before September due to weather conditions and the need to train Malian troops and pursue peace talks. “Some allies are asking if we need to intervene right now. Our position is yes, we do, because the longer we wait the more these groups will put down roots. It will be more difficult afterwards and more expensive,” Duncan said in Paris, where he attended a conference with international donors.
Delaying intervention would make it much harder to dislodge the foreign fighters, he said. “There is a destabilisation of the region taking place in Mali,” Duncan said. “We have to get rid of these groups. Nor can we tolerate the traffic of drugs and the taking of hostages.” Seven French nationals are being held in the Sahel region, which has also increasingly become a haven for international organised crime groups. France is the most outspoken Western advocate of military intervention.
Duncan welcomed negotiations with two groups which opened on Tuesday in neighbouring Burkina Faso. The Tuareg separatist MNLA, which launched the northern uprising, and Ansar Dine, a local group which quickly usurped control of the movement, have agreed to work towards a negotiated solution with Malian officials. Duncan said the threat of military force played an important role in bringing these groups to the negotiating table and keeping them there.
“These groups only said they were ready to negotiate when African states showed they were ready to intervene. If we don’t continue to pressure them, tomorrow they will simply walk away.”