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Hollande Goes To War, French War On Terror in Mali

Politics / France Jan 14, 2013 - 05:17 AM GMT

By: Andrew_McKillop


Francois Hollande's surprise decision in the night of January 11 to rush French pilots and troops into war, to counter the southward advance of "islamic terrorists" in Mali, drew predictable 'union sacree' support from all French political parties including the hardline extreme right Front National and hardline extreme left parties led by Jean-Luc Melanchon. Within 24 hours French media consumers also learned that a French DGSE secret service agent held hostage for more than 3 years by an "Al Qaeda related" terror group in Somalia, 3750 miles (6000 kms) to the east, had been murdered by his captors when DGSE secret service operatives and regular military personnel made an unsuccessful rescue bid. Two of the military were killed and one was injured and taken hostage by the Somali "islamic terrorists" who lost 17 of their own fighters in the raid, according to French reports.

On the ground or "in theater" Mali is an immense almost empty country - with about 12 persons per square kilometre this places Mali 218th out of the world's 242 states, ranked by population density using UN data. Its ranking by per capita GDP is similarly low although press and media comments, in France, following Hollande's surprise decision, noted that Mali has "considerable potential" for gold mine expansion and "immense potential" for shale gas and shale oil development. Under any hypothesis however, the short-term "peace dividend" or war booty for hard-pressed French taxpayers facing Hollande's austerity-and-taxes program at home is likely to be as low as the war booty it obtained in the Afghan "war for democracy".

In northern Mali the desert rules and outside the few widely spaced towns or cities, such as Timbuktoo, population density averages about 1 person per square kilometre: in this desert scene finding even two "djihadists" needs plenty of legwork. More related to the real strategic threat and evolution of this new war theatre for the West, led by France, each major period of intensified drought in the Sahel, since the late 1970s, has caused massive migration either outside and away from Mali, or inward migration to Malian towns and cities from the desert inhabited by the near-exclusive majority Tuaregs, rightly called "the men of the desert".

These recent drought-driven Tuareg migrations were most intense towards the end of the "long drought" which affected all Sahel countries until about 1992-95. The population shuffling and regional ethnic impacts were in particular exploited by the Khadafi regime in Libya, and Bouteflika regime in Algeria, for their regional geopolitical power plays.

True to form, Muammar Khadafi played his own divide-and-rule "strategy" in an eccentric, always-changing way making generous handouts of small arms, vehicles, munition and training, and cash to all-comers and all players in "his" African backyard. As well as the Tuareg, djihadists and brigands were sometimes, in some cases richly endowed with weapons, including relatively high quality antitank missile launchers and vehicle-mounted antiaircraft rapid fire cannon of 20 - 50 mm caliber, with a range up to 7 kms able to fire as fast as 900 rounds per minute. Algeria countered this with its own more insidious, planned and targeted strategy of extending Algerian power southwards into the Sahel, through a mixture of selected assassination or "elimination" of "uncooperative" political and ethnic leaders, and gave cash-and-military support to certain djihadist groups, like Ansar Dine and the even less defined "Al Qaeda for an Islamic Maghreb" (AQMI), for as long as that was judged of interest to Algeria in the three Sahel countries including Mali, sharing a common border with Algeria. Other players from outside the region especially included Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar, often indiscriminately financing extreme islamic groups right across the Sahel while attempting to not support or to counter those "islam influenced" fighter groups which were aided by Khadafi, and less rigorously, those supported by Algeria.

On the other side of the strategic chessboard, all Western countries supported the de facto regimes in place, in Sahel Africa, nearly all of them "modern minded" military dictatorships similar to the Hosni Mubarak regime of Egypt. During the two presidential terms of France's Francois Mitterand (1981-1995) this "Africa policy" was semi-official and never denied. Only stark cases of local opposition to Western-friendly regimes, such as in Chad, made France place combat troops and especially military aviation resources "in theater": today, in northern Mali, French fighter jets operate out of N'Djamena in Chad, 1800 kilometres east of the "theater".

However and as we know since Arab Spring, this "static model" for African geopolitics, at least in Arab and muslim northern Africa, has fallen apart with no clear replacement except ad hoc piecemeal support to "threatened friendly regimes", marking a return to 1980s-style "neocolonial geopolitics".According to a study published by the US-based Social Science Research Network in November 2012 by Olivier Walther and Dimitris Christopoulos, the "Sahel blend" of local political opponents and insurgents, Tuareg groups, common thieves raiding cross-desert supply lines, and islamic jihadists is a constantly shifting kaleidoscope. The always shifting results are impacted by major periodic and one-off events such as democratic opposition to Western-backed dictators, recurring regional droughts, the collapse of Khadafi's quixotic, small-time megalomaniac regime, urban population growth, and Arab Spring.  

One thing is certain: mainly due to the cut-off in Khadafi petrodollars and unsure supply of Saudi and Qatari petrodollars, but increasing supply of Algerian petrodollars restricted only to Algiers-friendly groups and entities, the net result has been what the Western press calls "radicalization". This has triggered a "business model" shift to finding new revenue sources, notably hostage taking and protection rackets operated against the weak, undermanned, underequipped and corrupt local civil power systems in Sahel states. Opponents of all kinds to the "in situ" Western-friendly formal powers which essentially only rule the major cities has rapidly grown - with an ongoing "turf war" outside the major cities between unsure and underpaid troops of the Western-friendly regimes, and the opposition kaleidoscope. This stand-off "turf war" has been through armed combat: in Mali this has been especially spectacular but the same process now operates in all other Sahel countries.

The net result is the supposed "nightmare scenario" of complete collapse or takeover of Sahel governments - especially in Mauretania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad -  by the "Sahel blend" of forces that are either not necessarily friendly, or are openly hostile to the West.  The "Sahel blend" includes political militants (such as the MNLA in Mali) opposed to the undemocratic regimes in power, brigands and thieves, Tuaregs, and "djihadists" using Saudi-type rhetoric but not having the thick magic shield of petrodollars which buys supine and obsequious Western media support. Foreign interference by remote powers such as France, other European powers or the USA can only hope to anchor and protect the military juntas in place and kill opponents to the juntas. Western media calls this "the democratic agenda" but in fact this marks a 180-degree return to the colonial context. In all cases of the former French colonies of Sahel Africa during the colonial period of about 1860-1960, large permanent French troop presence was always needed to hold down local rebellions.

The present Mali war of France's Francois Hollande will have only one final result: the need to station expensive ground troops to keep the Western-friendly unelected regimes in place. To be sure, Western media felt obliged to call the semi-permanent Afghan war "the democratic agenda" - but this dirty colonial war has now been essentially abandoned as a lost cause by the Obama administration, after killing several hundred thousand Afghans, forcing more than 2 million to flee the country and further impoverishing an already desperately poor country. The basic reason for abandonment is the determined resistance of local forces and the clear lack of war booty or "economic opportunities".

Chuck Hagel and Obama believe that the US "can’t police the world" and that multilateral alliances are central to a foreign policy which strives to ensure the survival of "Western-friendly" regimes, after they have been created when that is also needed. Francois Hollande has predictably, within hours of launching his small-sized "postcolonial war", put out the begging bowl for military support to the US and UK, for his Mali operations.

As far back as the "iconic" days of US president Dwight 'Ike' Eisenhower, his foreign policy was summarized by foreign policy historians as: “Ike felt that forces of occupation in poor countries where they are not welcome are losing propositions”. This argument has already surfaced regarding the Sahel "islamic terror" threat. As the president of Tunisia, Moncef Marzouki wrote in a January 14 Bloomberg piece: "The second challenge (after removing the dictators) is social and economic. This one is essentially based on a relentless battle against corruption and the establishment of an economy that must be oriented toward solidarity, departing from the ultra-free-market liberal model that would benefit only the Westernized elites".

The life expectancy of even the less flagrantly undemocratic regimes in power in the Sahel, for example in Senegal to the extreme west of the region, is not assured. Other regimes in the true Sahel are more nakedly undemocratic, even dictatorial, including the present in situ regimes of Mauretania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad: these are at best temporary and shifting power systems, built on the whims and calculations of leading military figures and their domestic political puppets.

The Mali war marks a breakpoint in the "postcolonial era", which for the French colonies started in 1960 but rapidly shifted to "indirect remote rule" by the former colonial power and the so-called international community operating unsure "multilateral alliances". Although the headline cause of this breakdown is "islamic terror", other factors weigh heavy: democratic strivings, fast population growth, urbanization, grnding poverty, the long drought cycle and ever-rising Chinese commercial, industrial and financial presence. For France, which completed its formal military retreat from Afghanistan on Dec 31, 2012 the "war against terror" in Mali is a major risk: the potential for this war spilling over to Mali's vast neighboring countries is extreme high - in fact guaranteed. France's low economic profile in the region is also threatened by the probable blowback, as real terror and real hostage taking of French citizens,with an almost certain stampede out of these countries by "the French community".

This would spell total economic loss and the effective abandonment of France's nice-on-paper policy of "beau Sabreur" and "Beau Geste" in Sahel Africa, an outdated Indiana Jones-type image to paper over the large cracks in its present outdated and provenly uneconomic colonial reoccupation strategy.

By Andrew McKillop


Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights

Co-author 'The Doomsday Machine', Palgrave Macmillan USA, 2012

Andrew McKillop has more than 30 years experience in the energy, economic and finance domains. Trained at London UK’s University College, he has had specially long experience of energy policy, project administration and the development and financing of alternate energy. This included his role of in-house Expert on Policy and Programming at the DG XVII-Energy of the European Commission, Director of Information of the OAPEC technology transfer subsidiary, AREC and researcher for UN agencies including the ILO.

© 2013 Copyright Andrew McKillop - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisor.

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