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MURAT YETKİN > Why is France in Mali?

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French troops engaged in clashes with Islamist militants in Mali on Jan. 16 with backing from their European allies. Britain, Belgium and Germany are providing logistic support to France on the mission.

And so French troops are back in Mali after the West African country gained independence from it on June 20, 1960, ending a colonialist rule that had started in 1905. There were agency reports yesterday saying that some residents of the nation’s capital, Bamako, had started hanging French flags from their windows. That could be the beginning of a tragic end for Africa’s political independence experience.

French President François Hollande, a socialist, has vowed to “crush” the terrorists there so that they could “do no harm in the future.” The terrorists that Hollande mentioned are radical Islamist groups, some of which have links with the notorious al-Qaeda. French and actually most Western European countries who have colonial pasts in Africa are defending their move by saying that if militant Islamists were allowed to settle in Mali, the uncontrollable northern part of it being at the heart of Saharan Africa, then the Southern neighborhood of West Europe could turn into another Afghanistan, a base for “terrorism sans frontiers,” or “terrorism without borders.” Somalia in the “Sahel,” the East African coast and Mali in the “Maghreb,” north-west Africa, are two sources of concern for Western Europe and North America, namely the United States and Canada, regarding the radical Islamist rise.

While French military headquarters are disclosing plans to increase the number of ground troops from 800 to 2,500, a regional force of 3,000 from seven neighboring countries have been sent under the command of Mali’s government.

Islamist groups, the biggest of them being the Defenders of Faith (Ansar ad-Din) and Unity and Jihad in West Africa (At Tewhid wal Jihad), who have been practically in control of the northern parts of the country (a territory bigger than France and mostly Sahara desert) since 2012, reinforced with those armed groups and even the merceneraies who fled Libya after the fall of Muammar al-Gaddafi regime in 2011. A strategically located town, Konna, was recently seized by them. With French air raids and now a ground offensive, there are reports that some of the militants are withdrawing further north, into the Saharan ocean of sand. But is that a victory? Or is it déja vu from Afghanistan and Iraq? The NATO operation in Afghanistan was aimed at crushing similar terrorists so that they could do no harm in the future. Now we are in the future. It is true that Osama bin Ladin, the leader of al-Qaeda, was killed in a U.S. commanded operation in 2011, but the organization has extended its reach from the Afghan mountains to its shores and the deserts of Africa, and is therefore now threatening Europe.

France will raise the issue with the European Union’s allies probably this weekend. Will Paris bring it to NATO as well? What will NATO (including Turkey with its new Africa opening) say than? Those are questions that have no answers yet. But the Pandora’s box has now been opened and the northern and southern shores of the western Mediterranean Sea might get warmed up dangerously in near future.

January/17/2013

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kerem atan

1/18/2013 7:28:46 PM

mara, no one could believe in the pretext of 'protecting french citizens' any more. think western countries should stop keeping their noses out of the issues of other countries in order to exploit their resources.they already set off terrorism by intervening in the countries this way.but terror is terror indeed. so turkey also has the right to pound the terrorist bases in iraq to protect turkish soldiers,police and citizens.at least we dont kill iraqi villagers nor try to benefit from oil.

B Medic

1/18/2013 3:21:22 PM

@Blue Dotterel. Since more or less everything the West does is evil or a form of terrorism according to your standards, what kind of World would you like to see? What countries do you believe are good? Who are your role models?

mr who

1/18/2013 12:06:13 PM

Mali has lots of gold there but bet my bottom dollar there has been positive oil drilling reports.

Johanna Dew

1/18/2013 11:50:31 AM

@bluedotterel: is ponding the PKK in non-threatening Iraq by Turkey ok for you? France and and now the West is intervening since another piracy state at the door of Europe is not wanted. And we are invited by government and people. Your riddle about 'colonial and imperialistic powers' is of the last century. We are not stuck in 1960 but its 2012!! Spare me your Ottoman imperialism.

mara mcglothin

1/18/2013 12:27:33 AM

Spot on! VARGEN VARGEN We are always hearing the debate from MR AKYOL that there is a huge difference between Muslims and Islamists and he always says there aren't any Islamists in Turkey? ADNAN OSMAN So what say you? Are you really suggesting that these thugs are a good thing? Surely we misunderstood your post.

Blue Dotterel

1/17/2013 9:19:11 PM

So Mara, is using drones against Afghani and Arab villagers a form of terrorism? Is the bombing of Mali villages by the French a use of terror? State terrorism is the most prominent form of terrorism on the planet, and Western countries use it more than any others. No country on the planet engages more in terrorist practices than the United States. It is not just violence, but economic terrorism that it engages in. Are you prepared to fight the terrorists running the United States? Thought not.

Vargen Vargen

1/17/2013 6:10:03 PM

Adnan you claim that "Muslims are finally rising from their sleep". Ohhhhhhhh. So these are Muslims? And they are role models? Al Qaida? Hard core Islamists? Are these people, some one you are looking up to? I am getting very worried for Turkey when I read comments like yours. I guess you like the Tallibans as well?

Adnan Kara Osman

1/17/2013 4:45:59 PM

i think Muslims are finally rising from their sleep and they are a threat to western interests that have suppressed them for so long by putting puppet governments to rule in their favor and exploit the reaches of the people. Their plans are failing them as allah is the best of planners. they try to extinguish the light of Islam but Allah makes it brighter. Be tuned the tide is changing Inshallah.

Vargen Vargen

1/17/2013 4:37:52 PM

So what does the columnist suggest instead. That the radical Islamists and Al Qaida get a free cheque to terror regular people and to force their sick ideas on people who do not want them? Why does he not instead question why Turkey is not involved?

mara mcglothin

1/17/2013 3:18:17 PM

To protect French citizens. The times for Neoimperialist muscle are long gone. You can't have it both ways. Terror is terror and must be fought by us all.
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