France continued to assist the Malian government in its fight against Islamist extremists this week, carrying out a series of airstrikes and ground operations after the militants overran the village of Diabaly, bringing them closer to the capital city of Bamako. The French first directly intervened Friday with aerial bombing raids after the Malian government asked for assistance as Islamist extremists began a southern offensive that threatens to overtake the Northwest African country.
Mali has been in trouble for months. Last March, Malian soldiers overthrew the democratically elected President Amadou Toumani Toure. The coup, just a month before elections, was in response to the government’s failure to deal effectively with the Tuareg separatist rebellion in the north. But only one month later, in April, the Tuareg rebels — empowered by arms and fighters from Libya following Moammar Qaddafi’s ouster — seized the northern region of Mali and declared independence. The Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and the Islamist group Ansar Dine then united, declaring north Mali an Islamic state that strictly follows Sharia law. The Islamists soon took control of the rebellion, however, and their continuation to push south towards the capital forced Bamako to ask France for assistance.
Malian people wave to French soldiers as they leave Bamako for northern Mali. (Photo: Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images)
France has thus far committed 1,700 troops to the mission in Mali including the 800 troops that are already stationed there. Ghana, Togo, Guinea, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Benin, and Nigeria have committed to sending troops as well. The U.S., for its part, has committed logistical support but said it will not send troops to Mali at this time. U.S. policy forbids military aid to countries where the existing government was put in place as a result of a coup. Because of this, no support can go directly to the Malian government until a leader is elected.
France plans to remain in Mali until stability is returned. As French President François Hollande said: “We have one goal. To ensure that when we leave, when we end our intervention, Mali is safe, has legitimate authorities, an electoral process and there are no more terrorists threatening its territory.” According to the UN, since March 2012 approximately 230,000 people in Mali have been displaced by the instability and fighting.