TW: military intervention, civilian casualties
Last Sunday, the Malian government celebrating their advances back into the North and France’s President François Hollande declaring the French involvement in the area an untarnished success. The following day, both governments received an opportunity which they decided wasn’t worth it. For their rejection of it, they and the residents of northern Mali have already begun to pay the price, the full sum of which I’m not sure of.
The opportunity offered them was a statement released by the Moussa Ag Assarid, a spokesperson for the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). In it, he essentially stated that the Touareg rebels in the North, who have previously complicated Malian anti-islamist efforts, would be willing to be part of a unified front against the islamists alongside the Malian and French governments. The cost was pretty simple – they would be recognized as at least an autonomous region and legitimate representative of the disenfranchised Touareg population of Mali. To my knowledge, neither the French nor the Malian governments responded publicly to this offer, as they both clearly do not want to give the MNLA any sort of legitimacy, as that might threaten their existing deals over the mineral rights of the region.
Even with their optimistic statements on Sunday, with the war begun in earnest the usefulness of an ally rather familiar with the terrain and population of north Mali seems to have become more clear. The rally against the islamists was supposed to have begun in the city of Konna, but it’s starting to become clear that the islamists either never lost control of it, or quickly regained its territory. Likewise, the Guardian reported that-
“On Monday, the French military bombed Islamist bases in Douentza, 500 miles north of Bamako [the capital of the recognized Malian government], for the fourth day running. However, the fundamentalists were reported to have already fled the town.”
In short, that bombing campaign near exclusively hit civilians, rather than islamists, which is only going to prove anyone’s point that the French and Malian governments and military forces have other interests in the region besides claims to protect the civilians from the brutality of islamist rule.
(North Malian protesters demanding the liberation of predominantly Touareg cities in the region, almost one year ago. Originally from here.)
Perhaps having an ally who could have more accurately reported the presence of islamist militants in Konna and the lack of them in Douentza was something the French and Malian governments should have more carefully considered.
Of course, much the damage is already done, with the war-related sealing of the Algerian border leading to food shortages in the far North, and throughout the region most civilians fleeing out of the major cities to avoid the bombing campaigns (available only in French, sorry). While that might help them escape certain death, it tends to remove them from areas with much in the way of medical supplies, leading to currently unnumbered casualties.
In their actions, the French and Malian governments have made clear to the civilians of north Mali that they’re just as likely to brutalize them as the islamist occupiers. That might bolster recruits for the islamists, but I suspect that primarily the MNLA will see quite a groundswell of support. In either case, those governments have acted quite foolishly, and they might not know it yet, but they’ve already begun paying the price.