Despite French and Malian government forces making steady gains against Islamist rebels, the conflict has rapidly caused ripple effects in Africa, Europe and beyond. Scores of foreign fighters have reportedly entered northern Mali to support the rebels. France’s involvement has “produced the fastest blowback yet in the war on terror,” wrote Guardian columnist and associate editor Seumas Milne.
The conflict has had serious and direct consequences for Mali’s neighbours, and the region as a whole. Contributing to tensions are a combination of anti-imperialist sentiment, accusations of further Western meddling in a Muslim country, existing regional instability, the electoral rise of Islamist parties in North Africa, and credible reports by human rights groups of abuses by Malian authorities - including killings - against Arabs and Tuaregs.
North Africa and the Sahel face “potential disaster,” Milne added. “The past decade has demonstrated beyond doubt that such interventions don’t solve crises, let alone deal with the causes of terrorism, but deepen them and generate new conflicts. More military intervention will bolster authoritarian regimes - and its rhetoric further poison community relations in the intervening states.”
The mission, “however necessary, well-intentioned and even wished for by the majority of Malians (to the extent the wishes of Malians can even be determined that clearly),” will “claim the lives of many more Africans, French, American and other Western citizens,” says Mark LeVine, professor of Middle Eastern history at UC Irvine, and distinguished visiting professor at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Sweden’s Lund University.
Paris’s intervention raises the prospect of retaliatory attacks at home. France “has fallen into a trap much more dangerous than Iraq, Afghanistan or Somalia,” and has “opened the gates of hell,” said Omar Ould Hamaha, a leader of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), one of the rebel groups in northern Mali.
The conflict has had serious and direct consequences for Mali’s neighbours, and the region as a wholeSharif Nashashibi
“France has attacked Islam,” added Abou Dardar, another MUJAO leader. “We will strike at the heart” of the country. Asked where attacks would take place, Dardar said: “Everywhere.” Such threats are being taken very seriously, and so they should be, given the proximity of Mali, the organisational and military capabilities of these Islamist groups, and the myriad French interests in Africa, the Middle East and beyond.
Paris’s intervention raises the prospect of retaliatory attacks at homeSharif Nashashibi
“The UK’s decision to provide RAF transport planes to fly supplies from France to Mali will potentially make London just as vulnerable.”