I am all in favor of military task force to support local Malian troops; to dislodge Tuareg rebels and Al-Qaida elements. This is a simple mission to push back rebels; win back lost ground and ultimately taking back territory.
UN approval requires AU and ECOWAS to come up with a swift plan to claw back the occupied territories. Foreign troops on the ground in Mali could spell resistance. There is a concern that like in Iraq and Afghanistan; Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb could make Mali a strategic hob to wage war and prolong conflict in that region. As international public opinion shifts with changing situation on the ground a long war will not be interest of the UN. Competing powers at the Security Council with major powers like China and Russia on opposing side of the western powers. Continued support for a strong and robust military mandate may subside.
Mali’s Military had been unwilling and at time unable to take the fight to militants and win back lost territory. Without a process map to democratic elections and looming possibility of a further coup; Mali’s current transitional civilian government does not trust it military wholeheartedly. Especially after the military launched a coup in march of this year plunged the country to chaos and ultimately the capitalization of land by Tuareg rebels with the support from Alqaida.
Like Tuareg rebels in Mali; Boko Haram sect in Nigeria and Alshabab militia in Somalia all pose a significant challenge for security, military and intelligence forces. Crushing these competing elements and challenging their ideology will be difficult. Tuareg rebels are focused on building an Islamic state with Sharia law at the core of that ideology. Such measures involve the curtailing of Western values, destruction of sacred shrines, limiting rights for women and observation of strict social norms. Those that don’t comply are usually met with hash punishments.
Cost of an offensive Urban war against Tuareg rebels and Al-Qaeda could be substantial and ECOWAS could be sucked into a long war; costing 100’s of millions of dollars requiring a constant flow of military equipment and personnel. The human cost could be high fighting urban warfare in cities against an enemy that does not wear a uniform that can easily blend into the civilian population. There will be many casualties and civilian deaths caught up in the cross fire.
Displacement of Mali citizens is a reality that the world will have to contend with. Mali’s neighboring countries will shoulder the immediate burden as refugees including women and children stream across the border. Most countries in Africa are poor and with crumbling infrastructure. Already struggling to address the needs of the host population many services health care, schools, housing, electricity and waters will be stretched to breaking point if there is an exodus of refugee numbers.
A quick and decisive military victory is what is required; regressing of Sharia law and crushing Islamic militants may prove to be difficult mission. Fighting an ideology, changing a mind set has its challenges and may not be addressed in the short term. Ultimately it is the Malian people who can determine their future and rid the country of undesirable elements. Tuareg rebels and Al-Qaida elements are currently a present danger to Mali, a threat to regional stability and a security concern for the civilized word.