[Translated from Le Figaro (Paris)]
HOW FRANCE IS PLANNING INTERVENTION IN MALI'S NORTH
By Isabelle Lasserre
** The plan's first phase should be launched in November -- Paris will not send ground troops **
Le Figaro (Paris)
October 19, 2012
It's "only a matter of weeks" before a military operation gets underway that is intended to reconquer the north of Mali, occupied by Islamist groups linked to al-Qaeda, according to French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. The U.N. Security Council has given 45 days to West African countries to propose a concrete intervention plan. Urged on by France, the European Union will propose in the same timeframe a plan to manage the crisis. After that, the way ahead will be clear. "If we botch the meteorologial window, we'll have to wait for a year," warns one well-informed source. Everything should be engaged on a wide front before the end of March, when the rainy season begins. Concretely, Jean-Yves Le Drian's entourage is talking about a three-phase program: first, stabilize the south of Mali and protect Bamako by the end of November; second, put in place the formation of African armies in January; third, start the reconquest of the north by the beginning of March at the latest.
Officially, it's the African armies that will lead the operation. Although it has been designated as the principal enemy by AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), Paris, which claims to be breaking with past "Françafrique" practices and doesn't want to hear once again about its colonial past, is refusing to be on the front line. France, hiding behind Europe and positioning itself as the support of African countries that will be assisted in planning and logistics, promises that there will "not be ground troops."
THREE THOUSAND MEN
The French authorities are communicating more discreetly about special forces at work in the region, whose mission is independent of the official calendar. They are preparing to intervene upstream in order to provide intelligence and guide the African forces on the ground. They could act more quickly still if France's interests or the life of the hostages come to be threatened.
As in Libya and in Côte d'Ivoire in 2011, covert means are positioned to provide support to local forces, in particular the Malian army, which is under-equipped and demoralized after its defeat by the Islamists. Behind the scenes, Paris has also taken charge of drawing up the intervention program that is supposed to be proposed by the West African countries.
Remaining until recently in the background on the Sahel matter, the United States has changed its position since the attack on its diplomatic representatives in Benghazi on Sept. 11, which caused the death, in "atrocious conditions," of Ambassador Chris Stevens. "The Sahel has become a stake for the Americans. They now want to be more closely associated with the intervention," confirms a source close to the French Ministry of Defense who has spoken at length with his American counterpart, Leon Panetta. The Americans, which have armed drones in the region, are no longer ruling out intervening directly in the north of Mali, for example by carrying out armed strikes on targets.
All the details of the military operation have not yet been worked out. The African countries are expected to furnish 3,000 men, but the list of states participating in the intervention against Isalmist fighters armed with missile- and rocket-launchers has not yet been finalized. Nor have the political rules. But all the potential countries are well aware: without a lasting diplomatic solution, military intervention will not be sufficient to settle the problem of AQIM in the Sahel.
[INSET: THE MALIAN CONFLICT. AT STAKE IN THE CONFLICT: Northern Mali and cities under the control of Islamists and Tuaregs. Zone of AQIM's activity. TOWARD AN INTERVENTION? Member countries of CEDEAO [Communauté économique des États de l'Afrique de l'Ouest ('Economic Community of West African States [ECOWAS] [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_Community_of_West_African_States ]) [Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Niger]. Non CEdEAO-member country that may intervene [Chad]. Countries opposed to intervention [Mauritania, Algeria]. Presence of French military.]
MILITARY RECONQUEST UNDER DISCUSSION IN BAMAKO
The Malian interim president, Dioncounda Traoré, emphasized on Friday the "urgency" of a foreign armed intervention to liberate the north of his country when he opened the international meeting in the Malian capital whose goal was to hasten such an intervention.
"We shouldn't lose even a second. This is an emergency, we're in a race against the clock," said Dioncounda Traoré to high international officials gathered to harmonize their positions before sending a West African U.N.-supported force into the north of Mali.
The U.N. and the African Union have announced, for their part, the opening of permanent offices in Bamako in order to coordinate their respective actions in this crisis. But there are still divergences between West African officials and the representatives of the international organizations regarding what is needed for the deployment of the African force if it is to participate in a military initiative in the part of Mali controlled by al-Qaeda and its allies.
Given the extent to which the situation appears deadlocked both because of confusion over the sharing of power in Bamako after the March putsch and because of international disagreements over whether it is a good idea to engage in dialogue with the rebels before using force, this meeting of the Support and Follow-up Group on Mali is not expected to result in any spectacular progress.
Translated by Mark K. Jensen
Associate Professor of French
Department of Languages and Literatures
Pacific Lutheran University
Tacoma, WA 98447-0003
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