While BMI holds our view that a foreign-backed mission to recapture Mali's rebel-held north is almost impossible in the short term, we now believe that such a mission is increasingly likely in 2013. Our view is based on unexpected determination by France and rising support for a mission among regional states . Even so, we stress that the mission faces serious political, logistical, and military obstacles.
In March 2012 a coup by junior officers displeased with the elected government ' s handling of a separatist insurgency caused a power vacuum which, ironically, allowed a loose coalition of separatist and Islamist militias to capture all of north Mali. A fragile interim government was eventually established in the capital, while the north has been overrun by Islamist militias, many linked to al-Qaeda. Fears that the vast north could become a 'West African Afghanistan' have caused neighbouring states to call for international assistance in reuniting the country.
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BMI had previously argued that these calls would come to nothing in the short to medium term, citing opposition by key states, lukewarm support from the UN, and the daunting logistical challenges of operating a force in an arid desert the size of France (see 16 July 'Calls For Intervention To Ring Hollow ' on our online service). While we believe that any expectations of a rapid conclusion to the crisis are overly optimistic , a foreign-backed mission is now possible in 2013.
Could Help Be On The Way?
The chorus of voices calling for a military intervention in Mali is growing, and BMI believes that support from France and regional states is raising the possibility of an eventual mission.
While Paris has ruled out deploying French troops in support of any intervention, President François Hollande has taken a leading role in supporting a mission to reunite Mali, a former French colony. Paris has deployed unarmed drones to the area, and recently provided Burkina Faso with planes and jeeps to help the country patrol its long border with Mali. Allegations that terrorists (some of them French citizens) are using north Mali as a training area indicate that France is the major power with the most exposure to the situation in Mali.
Support is also growing among regional states, with the African Union (AU) becoming involved and Algeria - a long-term opponent of intervention - softening its tone. The AU says it will create a plan 'within weeks' and has re-established links with Mali's transitional government. The AU Commission's chairperson has spoken of a 'unity of purpose' and meetings are ongoing. BMI highlights Somalia, in which an UN and American-backed AU force is fighting Islamist militias as a potential model.
It's A Long Road Yet
There are, however, major obstacles yet to be overcome. On October 12 the UN gave regional states 45 days to formulate a plan for consideration, but the key questions of who would man, support, and command any force remain unanswered. Without Western troops, it is not clear if local forces are up to the challenge; regional states have so far only offered 3,300 of the 10,000 troops that one UN diplomat has estimated might be necessary.
Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire, Senegal, and Algeria (the region's top military power) have all ruled out sending troops, while Nigeria is bogged down in its own violence. Since African forces lack the airlift capacity to transport their forces around Mali's vast deserts, any mission would be contingent on heavy Western aid.
BMI believes that the AU will present a plan to the UN by the end of 2012, with a force beginning to deploy to Mali's south in early 2013. After that, however, we believe that it will take months to reform and retrain Mali's shattered army and prepare for a gruelling campaign to recapture the north. Since Mali's searing climate precludes operations in high summer, we believe that a mission into the north is unlikely before late 2013. Even so, the deployment of troops to the capital will ensure the stability of the country's populous southern provinces, which form the core of the country's economy.