Tuesday 19 March 2013

Concerns about Mali’s future as French prepare to leave

Malians wave farewell to departing French forces // Source: jornalnh.com.br

The French military campaign against Islamic militants in northern Mali has killed many of the Jihadists and drove the rest of them from the region’s cities to hideouts in the mountains.
Now, as France is getting set to pull its soldiers out, questions are being raised about the ability of the African coalition forces to patrol the vast territory and keep the Islamists at bay.

The French and Mali forces did all the fighting, and they are now deployed in the northern reaches of north Mali. Units from other African countries, mostly from Nigeria and Senegal, will be deployed in the central and southern parts of north Mali.
These forces have been slow to train and organize, and slow to arrive. They have no fighting experience and little equipment to do so if needed.

The New York Times reports that U.S., European, and African leaders are not happy with this state of affairs because they see the outcome of the fighting in Mali as having important implications not only for Mali itself, but for the larger fight against the spread of militant Islam and Africa and for the strategies the United States and France have adopted.
Last month the United States opened a drone base in north Niger, from which American drones fly reconnaissance flights over Mali, providing the information they gather to the French and Mali forces on the ground.

The Obama administration has spent $550 million since 2009 for training and equipping West African armies to fight militants. Observers agree that the results so far have been meager.
The Mali military fractured after a coup attempt in March 2012. Some Mali unites did fight along the French units in north Mali, but the rest of the Mali army has disintegrated. Turning what remains of the Mali army into a cohesive and effective force would entail “a huge amount of work,” Brig. Gen. Francois Lecointre of France, who is leading the effort to retrain Mali’s Army, told the Times.

The U.S. military earlier this month conducted an exercise in Mauritania, Mali’s neighbor. The exercise saw American soldiers train units from several African countries — Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Senegal, and Nigeria — to tackle ambushes, raid militant hide-outs, and win over local populations.
American officials say, diplomatically, that the exercise offered a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of several of the African armies which will soon take over the mission of helping protect Mali from militants.
“You have to able to shoot, you have to able to move, you have to be able to communicate, but most importantly, you have to be able to think,” Col. George Bristol of the Marine Corps, the senior American Special Operations officer on the ground during the exercise, told the Times.
“We don’t need them to be as good as us, just better than the bad guys,” said one American officer who, under the ground rules for the exercise, would not be identified.
“It’s possible these troops would go to Mali,” Lt. Col. M. Dieye of Senegal, commander of a platoon of special forces soldiers who took part. “Now we’ve worked together with other African troops, like we would in Mali,” he said.

Some experts are not so sure. “No amount of exercise or training in the next couple weeks or months can, in itself, prepare African forces for their new role in Mali,” said Benjamin Nickels, a counterterrorism specialist at the National Defense University’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies in Washington, told the Times. “An ongoing commitment will be required.”

The French say that even after they withdraw the 4,000 troops they currently have in Mali, they will continue to keep a small counterterrorism force in the country.
It appears that UN officials now recognize that the 3,300-strong African peace keeping force, which will replace the 4,000 departing French, are just not up to the task of fighting battle-hardened militants. Western diplomats have thus suggested that the UN should approve the formation of a heavily armed rapid-response force of up to 10,000 troops, mostly from Chad, and authorize this force to intervene in Mali in the event the peace keeping force there is unable to deal with the Islamist threat.

culled from the Homeland Security Newwire


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