Mali’s Looming War: Will Military Intervention Drive Out the Islamists?
By Alan Boswell / Mopti, Mali, world.time.com
Even as Mali split apart this spring in the single largest advance for Islamist extremism in years, only briefly did the world’s latest front line in the war on terrorism show signs of its newfound significance. Refugees poured into the sleepy river town of Mopti, where Mali’s oversize north butts against the country’s more populous south. Residents fled, hotels went dark, banks pulled out their cash reserves, and training camps spawned on the edge of town. But then, nothing happened. The Islamist rebels halted just to the north, and the waiting began. As far as locals are concerned, the world never noticed. “We are ready to go fight for our land,” says Abdoulaye Diallo, a leader in Ganda Iso, or Sons of the Land, a Mopti-based community militia that claims to have over a thousand men ready to fight, albeit with no guns. “But we need help.”
Mali’s epic implosion in the heart of West Africa is a horror scenario in action: in a weak, porous region, well-financed al-Qaeda-linked groups have secured an area the size of Texas to build a base for Islamist extremism in North and West Africa. Officials and locals say foreigners are entering and leaving the new safe haven with relative ease, turning its desert dunes into a regional sinkhole for ultraconservative Islamists, exiled terrorists and drug-smuggling opportunists. The overall situation gives birth to a strange breed of outlaw rule some have dubbed gangster jihadism. Yet, so far, the world has reacted not with quick resolve but stunned bewilderment.
Poor and landlocked, Mali was barely a blip on the world’s radar as the war in Libya spewed rebellious Tuareg tribesmen back into Mali last year. When they took up arms and struck bedfellow deals with al-Qaeda-linked groups, heads started to turn. Then, suddenly — after a military coup and quick rebel sweep through the north — al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and allied Islamist groups seized all of northern Mali. World leaders, stunned, tried to gauge the threat — and then started scrambling for a policy. And, months later, the scrambling continues, with U.S., European and African officials buzzing from capital to capital in closed-door negotiations and strategizing. Read More
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