France’s intervention in Mali exposes risks
Most likely, France will not succeed in realizing its objectives in Mali. France’s main objective to intervene in Mali was to defend Niger as the latter is in France’s sphere of influence. The existence of radical movements — spread along the coast and within the desert for years — will complicate the French efforts. These movements enjoy some clandestine relations with some countries that have been funding and providing them with intelligence and weapons. Therefore, France has a twin objective: To defend Mali by moving it away from Niger and to contribute in intensifying the efforts against militancy in North Africa.
The radical movements used to enjoy good relations with Libya under Muammar Qaddafi and with Iran. The late Qaddafi used them to realize his objectives in neighboring countries, particularly Egypt and Algeria. He considered these movements as tools in dealing with the Western and French interests in Africa. The French intelligence is not ignorant of what is taking place in the area that extends from Morocco to Libya, Chad, Darfur, to Somalia.
There is an intelligence struggle between France, the United States and Germany, on one hand and the Indian, Chinese and Russian intelligence, on the other. Indeed, France attaches great importance to Africa. Therefore, it had to militarize its foreign policy in order to serve its national security. The French Total company is the sixth oil company in the world that is owned by a non-oil country. Apart from being a successful business company, it also serves as a part of the tools to realize France’s strategic security. No wonder that some of the works of the company come within the context of offering logistical services for France’s policy of sustaining its presence in Africa. A great number of the France intelligence personnel work in Total.
Interestingly, France tired its best to enlist the support of the Mali’s neighboring counties to its military campaign. However, these courtiers have security misgivings with regard to the new French role. Algerians, for instance, are the most sensitive of a French role. France tried to transfer the Arab Spring protests to Algeria and failed. When it facilitated the transfer of terrorist cells into Algeria, the latter acted decisively. Because of lack of trust in the French, the Algerians opened a back channel with the Americans and the British.
The American intelligence community (NRO, DIA, CIA, FBI and NSA) was negative in assessing the French involvement in Mali. Moreover, it rang an alarm bell that the terrorist movement may resort to the tactic of a long-term attrition to wear out the French. Such terrorist actions can prevent France from realizing its objectives. These fears compelled Libya to close its borders with some neighboring countries. Additionally, the coastal and neighboring countries are on a security and military alert. Western intelligence estimate suggests that some 7 to 8 thousands have left Mali and some two thousand memebers of the Movement of Unity and Jihad and some members affiliated with Al-Qaeda have stayed in Mali.
According to some reports, Mali provides a conducive environment for the work of the terrorist organizations. Also, the situation in Syria is still unfolding. This may lead to the return of some of the movement’s stalwarts — especially the Algerians, Egyptians, Libyans and Tunisians — to Mali and neighboring countries. Based on this, the American Intelligence Center and the American anti-terrorism center warn against the consequences of the French intervention in Mali. A possible French victory in taking over the majority of the region of Ezwad and the north of Mali does not mean that the battle against Al-Qaeda is over. The Intelligence Center pointed out the tactics of these movements in both Iran and Afghanistan that are based on a long-term battle. The French forces cannot stay for a long time without realizing the French practical and strategic objectives.
It seems that France tries to get its key battle in Mali to defend its interest in Niger. But Al-Qaeda and the terrorist movements realize the French fears. Some 2,000 of Al-Qaeda members and the Movement of Unity and Jihad have left to Niger to confront the French in places important to France. These movements will peruse the long-term strategy that can hurt France economically. In addition to that, other members were sent to the adjacent places to address any emergency situation whenever it arises.
There is a clear-cut distinction between the operation of the terrorist organization and the French troops. The former follows the guerrilla type of war to demoralize the French Army. On the other hand, the French theory is based on the idea of securing the whole country. The tasks for the French troops in Mali are to deny the terrorist groups any chance to proceed. France uses the air force and provides the ground logistical support to Mali troops. The air force targets the bases of the terrorists, rending them ineffective to launch any offensive. The third task is to secure the safety of the people in Mali — many of whom are French citizens. The last task is to help the Mali troops get reorganized to control the whole swathes of land in Mali.
The French Air Force can target the key bases of the terrorist movements. Nonetheless, these movements have trained for a long time adjusting and adapting to constraints of topography and geography. Therefore, the aerial attacks are not going to make a huge difference. Additionally, these movements were aware of the French intentions and therefore they stockpiled a huge amount of ammunition and missiles.
It is not true that the terrorist cut off hands and destroyed the traditional places. The new generation of Al-Qaeda is pragmatic and not that extremist. In fact, these movements have a presence in Mali for such a long time and yet they never targeted traditional places. It is France that needs to reclaim its image to justify intervention in Mali. Needless to say that France is considering the establishment of two permanent military bases in Mali.
Will France succeed in putting an end to the terrorist movements without a huge cost or American help? It seems that despite the French ability to kick out these movements from the major city, there will be a cost for it in the long run. At the end, Paris will have no alternative but to negotiate with the militants and to acknowledge the new political reality of Ezwad. Should France secure its interests in the region, this alternative may look the optimal.
Stability in Mali is conditioned as well by internal factors and the balanced social and economic development. There should be a solution to the problem of Tuareg as a humanitarian problem within a comprehensive and inclusive political process. Short of doing that the crisis will stay and the French troops cannot interfere in a continuous manner despite the huge support for the French president in his bid.