French troops arrive in Mali to stem rebel advance
François Hollande responds to Malian president's plea for help, as UN calls for swift deployment of international force
Islamist fighters in Timbuktu. Mali's president is under growing pressure to fight back against Islamist control of the north of the country. Photograph: AP
French troops have arrived in Mali amid a rapid escalation of international efforts to intervene in the country, where Islamist groups are continuing to clash with the army for control of the desert north.
The French president, François Hollande, announced on Friday night that French armed forces had come to the aid of Mali troops on the ground. He said the operation would last as long as necessary and the French parliament would sit to debate the move on Monday.
I know very little about the Mali situation other than this scrap has been on the cards for a long time back in November I observed,
" I haven't commented on Mali largely because I have more than enough on my plate trying to keep up with Central and Eastern Africa. However it is worth noting that it is starting to look like the international community is getting serious about resolving the situation. The March coup was a miscalculation by the military and seems to have been initiated due frustration at the failure of the military to put down the Tuareg rebellion in the north. If my understanding is correct the power vacuum created by the military leaving the field ( the Tuareg rebels were unable to exploit the vacuum ) was filled by Islamist groups."
That the French have moved so decisively is a bit of a surprise given the French reluctance to get more involved in the Central African Republic. It could of course be that the French reluctance in CAR is a result of the situation in Mali.
The French foreign office has advised ex-pats to leave Mali because of the security situation.
French media quoted Malian officials as saying European military were present on the ground, namely at Sévaré.
Colonel Abdrahmane Baby, a military operations adviser for the foreign affairs ministry, told Associated Press that French troops were in the country but gave no details about how many or what they were doing.
The announcement confirmed reports from residents in central Mali who said they had seen western military personnel arrive and that planes had landed there throughout the night.
Earlier, Hollande said France was "ready to stop the terrorists' advance if it continues". In a speech to the country's diplomatic corps, he said: "I have decided that France will respond, alongside our African partners, to the request from the Malian authorities. We will do it strictly within the framework of the United Nations security council resolution.
The whole situation is incredibly complicated. Fortunately we haveLesley On Africa who has done a series of posts on the situation in Mali.
"[The rebels] have even tried to deal a fatal blow to the very existence of Mali. France, like its African partners and the entire international community, cannot accept that."
The tough-talking announcement by Hollande came after a plea for assistance from Mali's embattled president, Dioncounda Traoré, who has been under growing pressure in Mali to fight back against Islamist control of the north. The UN called for the swift deployment of an international force to Mali.
Al-Qaida-linked groups have controlled north Mali since the army deserted a campaign against Tuareg and Islamist rebels, followed by a military coup last March.
It is fairly much accepted a deal can be done with the Tuareg rebels but the Islamist groups I suspect have bitten of a hell of a lot more than they can chew.
On Thursday rebels captured the town of Konna, less than 40 miles from the strategic city and army base of Mopti. The situation in Konna is described as complicated, with army personnel still in the town but rebels now in control.
"There are Islamists controlling Konna, but they are integrated into the population, it is very difficult for the army to fight them," said Boubakar Hamadoun, editor of the Bamako-based newspaper Mali Demain, who has reporters based in the north. "It is a very complicated situation."
Hamadoun cast doubt on reports that Douentza, one of the southernmost towns under Islamist control, had been recaptured by the Malian army this week. "There are some army personnel in Douentza in strategic positions, but the rebels are still very much in control of the town," he said.
The renewed fighting follows the disintegration of a ceasefire between one of the Islamist groups, Ansar Dine, and the government. It has sparked panic in Mopti and other towns south of the de facto border between government and Islamist control, and prompted concerns in the international community that the Islamist groups – who operate a drug trafficking and kidnap economy in northern Mali and other Sahelian countries – could capture more ground.
Hollande's announcement marked a radical departure from recent agreements that limited the role of French and other international forces to providing Mali's army with training and logistical support.
The bottom line is the world is sick to death of radical Islam. If France goes and kills the sods nobody will weep and France will enhance its prestige. Should France fail I suspect the US will get involved.
France, the former colonial power in Mali and other countries in the Sahel region, has hundreds of troops stationed across west and central Africa. This month it declined to provide a military intervention to another former colony, the Central African Republic, whose government is also under threat from rebel groups.
A UN security council resolution has been passed, paving the way for military intervention in Mali, but the UN's special envoy for the Sahel, Romano Prodi, said in November there would be no deployment until September.