Editorial: Mali's Islamists are too dangerous to be ignored

Related Topics

Military involvement in foreign conflicts can never be undertaken lightly. But with Islamist extremists in Mali threatening to overrun the country, destabilise the region, and hand a vast area of the Sahel to al-Qa'ida and their like, the dangers of ignoring the West African country's plea for help were too great to be ignored. The French President's swift action is, then – reluctantly – to be welcomed.

Mali's troubles began a year ago. A string of defeats by Tuareg separatists – aided by Islamist fighters returning home from post-Gaddafi Libya – prompted a military coup and, in the confusion that followed, the army withdrew from the vast deserts of the north. With the secular Tuaregs then swiftly pushed aside by their former allies, extremist militants took control of a swathe of territory as big as France.

The result has been terrible suffering. Three Islamist groups are now active in northern Mali – Ansar Dine, al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb, and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa – terrorising local people, destroying cultural treasures, and enforcing the amputations and public whippings prescribed by sharia law. The International Criminal Court is investigating allegations of war crimes including rapes and executions. But although the UN finally approved a plan to deploy African troops to the country in December, military assistance for the beleaguered government in Bamako was not expected until September.

Last week, everything changed. A rebel victory at the town of Konna opened the way to Mopti, Mali's second city, and thus to the whole of the south. France's decision to send war planes to help re-take Konna and to send troops to protect Bamako was the only sensible response. And although François Hollande is open to charges of precipitousness, he was right that there was no time to waste. With Mopti lost, it might have proved impossible to stop Mali's collapse.

Britain's offer of assistance in the form of two C-17 transport aircraft is also to be supported. In part, such support reflects the reality of our much-vaunted defence partnership with France. But there is also an element of moral obligation here. With Mali's Islamists strengthened by an influx of mercenary fighters from Libya – in which our involvement was pivotal – it is incumbent upon us, as well as France, to help deal with the consequences. The Prime Minister's promise of "no boots on the ground" must be adhered to, however, regardless of how the conflict plays out.

Here the matter becomes less straightforward. The French Foreign Minister yesterday stressed that the intervention would last a "couple of weeks" only. It is difficult to be so sure, however. So far, progress has been anything but smooth, with militants gaining ground in at least one part of the country yesterday. The risk of military stalemate, of civilian casualties, and of retaliatory terrorist attacks in France (or elsewhere in Europe) are all too real.

Given such dangers, suggestions that Mr Hollande's first foray into foreign policy is simply to distract attention from his woeful poll ratings are hardly credible. The near-unilateral rush to Bamako's aid also sits uncomfortably with his promise to cut paternalistic ties with former French colonies. The sooner, therefore, that France is backed – politically – by the UN and – militarily – by the Economic Community of West African States, the better.

For all the difficulties of intervention in Mali, the alternatives are worse. There are many lessons to be learned from Afghanistan; the perils of a failed state providing a haven for global terrorism is one of them.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Games Developer - HTML5

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With extensive experience and a...

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£26000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Product Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Due to on-going expansion, this leading provid...

Recruitment Genius: Shift Leaders - Front of House Staff - Full Time and Part Time

£6 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a family ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Racism in Britain: Labour's leadership candidates explain how they’d tackle racial inequality

Independent Voices

We are facing the greatest refugee crisis since WWII

Mary Creagh
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Atwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'