Ongoing security crisis in Mali

The current security environment in Mali is becoming more complex and risky, given recent developments. Main cause of instability has been the March 22 coup by soldiers who were angry over the government’s handling of the crisis. President Amadou Toumani Toure was overthrown; creating a power vacuum that enabled secular separatists Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and Islamist rebels, Ansar Dine, to seize the vast desert north. The secular separatists were quickly sidelined by Islamists fighting on their flanks who had little interest in their aspirations for an independent homeland and set about implementing strict sharia.

Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith, in Arabic) along with the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) have implemented an extreme form of sharia in the cities they control, stoning, whipping and amputating transgressors. Ansar Dine has also destroyed centuries-old cultural treasures in the fabled city of Timbuktu which they denounced as “idolatrous” to their radical brand of Islam.

Fighters of the Ansar Dine, the largest of the Islamist groups that control northern Mali, at Kidal airport.

West African army chiefs have adopted a military plan to expel Islamist rebels controlling northern Mali reached at a meeting of army top brass in Bamako. The plan will be studied by regional heads of state for approval before being presented next week to the UN Security Council on November 26.

Given that Al Qaeda linked Islamist groups have been occupying territory larger than France, such events haven’t gone unnoticed by the world. France has sent drones to monitor activity.

A French defense official said Monday that France plans to move two surveillance drones to western Africa from Afghanistan by year-end, though he did not provide details.

The U.S. is getting involved as well. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton two weeks ago visited the region to lobby for support in ousting the extremists from Mali. Algeria, with its superior military capabilities and its 1,400-kilometre (900-mile) border with Mali, is seen as key to any military operation but has been hesitant to get involved, preferring a negotiated solution. Nigeria another neighboring country which has been looked at for possible assistance in taking on the Islamists lacks the capabilities and resources.

The Nigerian army is in a shocking state,” said the source, who has seen recent assessments of Ecowas’s military capability. “In reality there is no way they are capable of forward operations in Mali – their role is more likely to be limited to manning checkpoints and loading trucks.”

“The Nigerian forces lack training and kit, so they simply don’t have the capability to carry out even basic military manoeuvres,” the source added. “They have poor discipline and support. They are more likely to play a behind-the-scenes role in logistics and providing security.”

Reading through all the statements from police, army brass and politicians, war plans are being sketched out to take on, help drive out militant Islamists from Northeastern Mali.

Malian army, whose lack of training and equipment led directly to the country’s 22 March coup d’etat, which toppled the previous civilian government and allowed al-Qaida-linked Islamists to gain control of the country’s north will rely on international help. Fears in the region and among Western powers are high that the zone could become a haven for terrorists if nothing substantive is done.

Mediators have approached talks with the hope Ansar Dine will cut ties with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), whose alliance with the Islamists has triggered fears in the region and among western powers that the zone could become a new haven for terrorists.

Whether done regionally and or with help from abroad, countries in the region have to do whatever they have at their disposal to make sure that vast areas do not become sanctuaries for religious conflict fueled by Islamist groups.

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