After the arrival of French troops, the militants rapidly withdrew from Mali but there are signs that the crisis is far from over.
According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov, Western interference is responsible for the spread of terrorism in North Africa. The Russian government links the worsening situation in Mali to the intervention in Libya.
Lavrov discussed the situation in Mali with United Nations special envoy for the region, Romano Prodi. While Russia supported the French intervention to free Mali from Islamic militants, it blamed the West for the North African unrest, singling out the French for arming the rebels who ousted Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
According to the New York Times, Lavrov stated in a television interview earlier this month that "France is fighting against those in Mali whom it had once armed in Libya against Gadhafi."
In a statement after meeting the UN special envoy, Lavrov said, “The parties agreed that the uncontrolled proliferation of arms in the region in the wake of the conflict in Libya sets the stage for an escalation of tension throughout the Sahel.”
The Sahel is a vast geographic stretch that extends more than 3,000 miles across Africa, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Horn of Africa.
Despite French forces intervening in Mali in January and driving out al-Qaida-linked militants from the three largest northern cities, Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal, the situation in Mali is getting messier.
The dispersed fighters have begun sporadic campaigns of harassment and have renewed terror attacks against the French-led forces by sending out suicide bombers, attacking check-posts, infiltrating liberated cities or ordering attacks by militants concealed among civilians.
French-led forces are increasingly confronting guerrilla-style warfare from the militants ever since they were driven out from the main northern towns of Mali.
French forces are planning to pull out 4,000 soldiers next month and hand over the responsibility for guarding Mali to the African-led contingent, which would be part of a UN peacekeeping operation.
The escalating conflict between the French-led forces and al-Qaida-linked militants seems to indicate that Western intervention in Mali is going to be a protracted war.
According to Reuters, 13 Chadian soldiers died while fighting in northern Mali Friday. This is the heaviest casualty sustained by French and African troops since the launch of the military campaign against Islamist rebels in January.
According to AFP, battles erupted overnight Wednesday in Gao, after nearly 40 al-Qaida-linked Islamists infiltrated the city from nearby villages.
A spokesman from the al-Qaida-linked Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), one of Mali's key Islamist groups, told AFP, "Our troops have been ordered to attack. If the enemy is stronger, we'll pull back only to return stronger, until we liberate Gao."
Gao was retrieved from the rebels by French and Malian intervention on Jan. 26.
The unrest in North Africa is evidence that the Western-supported Arab Spring, especially the French support of the rebels in Libya, has led to a dangerous and chaotic situation, creating potential breeding grounds for terrorists in entire northern Africa.
French forces are planning to pull out of Mali but continuing escalation of guerrilla-style conflicts with the Islamist militants indicate that French and African forces are getting entangled in a messy war as they try to help Mali's weak army respond to bombings and armed raids.
The continued attacks in Mali show that Islamist militants are thriving and looking for opportunities to launch guerrilla-style warfare to test international troops and regain the upper hand in Mali.
The caves and mountains of the Adrar des Ifoghas region provide ideal locations for Islamist rebels to hide and prepare hit-and-run operations.
Presently, it looks like 4,000 French troops stationed in Mali are unlikely to fully withdraw from the region any time soon.
Moreover, the worsening security in northern Africa is affecting Western businesses. The hostage crisis in In Amenas has trigged security audits among Western companies throughout the region.
Governments are already directing firms to assess security at their facilities to prevent sabotage by militant groups. French special forces have already started securing vital uranium mines in Niger.
The United States has also deployed surveillance drones in Niger to gather information on Islamist militants across the border in Mali and share intelligence with French troops.
All these developments indicate that North Africa is increasingly becoming the focus of a combined counterterrorism efforts which includes the US, France, Russia and other Western countries who have a stake in African mineral resources.
For now, things are messy and solutions too simplistic to address the worsening issues.
Source: Reuters / The New York Times / The Guardian
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