The threat to Mali
Within 24 hours of the start of their mission to Mali French air strikes against al Qaeda-linked militants appear to have already begun to turn the tide of an offensive seen as threatening the country’s capital Bamako. A rebel command centre outside the key city of Konna was destroyed and the city was yesterday close to returning to government control.
The main effect of the latest rebel offensive has been to sharply accelerate a planned international response to the crisis which has seen three Islamist militias seize the bulk of the country’s north, including the cities of Timbuktu and Gao. There they brutally imposed sharia law, carrying out floggings and executions and destroying shrines in the holy city of Timbuktu. Thousands of refugees have fled.
Last month the United Nations Security Council condemned the capture of Konna and urged UN member states to assist Mali “in order to reduce the threat posed by terrorist organisations and associated groups”. The mandate was strongly supported by the 15 member states of the west African regional economic union, Ecowas, who have pledged troops. And the EU has promised to establish a military training mission (EUTMM) to help beef up Mali’s own weak army. The idea had been to put such a force in place by September, but France’s timely decision to avert the immediate threat to Bamako has brought the whole process forward. It now has some 400 troops in Bamako, and a further 1,000 from Burkina Faso and Niger were due yesterday.
Ireland has not yet decided whether to participate in the EUTMM, but the explicit UN mandate and Ireland’s recent experience in Chad make a Mali non-combat function a good fit with the profiles of the State’s most recent international military missions. Involvement would be entirely compatible with our national security doctrine of support for multilateral collective security through the UN, and an important affirmation as EU president of commitment to all the responsibilities of membership.