The fact that a Tuareg uprising in the first months of 2012 evolved into war in which Islamist extremists successfully gained control over the complete north of Mali by hijacking the rebellion is stunning in it’s own right. But the fact that there seems to be no actor, be it the Malian army itself or a regional or international community, that seems to be able and/or willing to stop and take out the extremists is probably even more astonishing. Immediately after the successful occupation of the north by the Tuareg, the extremists of MUJAO and Ansar Dine took over control and step by step ousted the Tuareg, almost expelling their troops out of Azawad up to the point they began to even seek for an alliance with the Malian government forces by the end of 2012. The extremists clearly have succeeded in creating a safe haven for themselves.
In the meanwhile Mali, ECOWAS and the United Nations have tried to find diplomatic solutions, also looking for a way to make a military intervention possible if necessary. The UN gave a mandate for an intervention and plans were made how this intervention should be conducted. An intervention force of 3,000 troops, made up of African forces and supported and trained by Western officers, should help the Malian army to regain control of the north. However, some important questions on who should pay for this intervention and how the logistics should be arranged still remain unanswered. The biggest regional power, Algeria, is reluctant to offer help in fear of it’s own internal security since a substantial contribution to an intervention in Mali could spark off a violent reaction of Islamist extremists within it’s own borders. Another big regional player, Nigeria, recently decided to bring down the number of troops it will contribute to an intervention because they are needed to battle Boko Haram. This isn’t all to promising for a successful intervention, but probably the biggest problem at the moment is the fact that an intervention force will not be ready before September 2013.
The Islamist fighters are aware of this fact and therefore are grabbing the opportunity to push further south into Mali. In September 2012 they’ve conquered Douentza, in the center of Mali, on the natural border between the desert North and green South. Now they push towards Mopti. They clearly do not want to wait until they will meet proper resistance in the form of an international intervention force. The Malian army on it’s own wasn’t able to stop the Tuareg and won’t be able to stop the extremists either. The extremists are gaining in strength, receiving reinforcements in the form of fresh volunteer Islamist fighters and, according to recent reports, from Boko Haram as well which has sent fighters to Bambar Maoude, 100 km north of Douentza.
Time is clearly running out. If an intervention will start in September, who knows how far the Islamists will have been able to advance by then? The intervention force will be faced with a bigger territory to reconquer and a better organized and dug in opponent. Tick, tack, tick, tack….