Dozens of foreign hostages have been killed at a gas field in Algeria in an apparent retaliation for French intervention in Mali.
The situation is a tragic reminder that al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb is consolidating despite an international effort to bomb its bases in addition to a ground offensive by more than 1,000 French soldiers in the Malian soil.
The tragic aspect of French operations in Mali is that a lot of these rebels were trained by the US but later defected from the government, especially Capt. Amadou Sanogo, the man who led the coup. Consequently, these rebels are well-versed in warfare from standpoint of special operations forces, and that makes them a formidable force in North Africa.
Despite combat operations by France, both on the ground and from the air, the Islamists rebels managed to overran Diabaly and a nearby Malian Army outpost on Monday, causing a huge embarrassment for France. This is a bitter fact for France; the adversaries are well armed, well-equipped, well-trained and determined.
For now, the French seem determined to root out Islamists not just from northern Mali but from the rest of the country. But the question is: Can France really succeed in getting rid of a virulent ideology by bombing rebel bases and using military operations?
The arid northern African state of Mali now seems to be a fortified base, ready for spreading terror to the rest of Africa. The coup and influx of Libyan arms after the fall of Moammar Gadhafi has given the rebels enough resources to connect with militants from Libya, Nigeria, Algeria and elsewhere. In such a scenario, what are the options in front of France to avoid northern Africa becoming another Afghanistan?
The killing of foreign hostages in Algeria gives France greater reasons to increase its offensive in Mali, and the plight of the hostages may bring in the involvement of soldiers from the African Union as well as support from the US and the rest of Europe.
However, the dicey part for French campaign in Mali would be the prospect of enjoying continued military assistance from the United States and Germany. This could be a thorny issue simply because NATO may not be interested in a protracted war in Mali because of the bitter experiences garnered from the Afghan war.
From a political standpoint, the French intervention in Mali could affect the entirity of North Africa. With Islamic militants invading the Algerian gas field and killing the hostages, the crisis in Mali has potentially turned itself into a full-scale regional conflict.
For the next couple of days, it will be challenging for France to assess if it will be able to cope with a protracted conflict in Northern Africa along with the support of other countries.
Sources: The New York Times / Voice of America / Economic Times
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