After only three weeks of French military intervention, the crisis in Mali appears to be waning. Troops are being withdrawn from Timbuktu, instead targeting Islamist bases and fuel depots to conclude the conflict. Responsibility is already being transferred to Malian forces. Peace is at hand. End of story. Or so it seems.
The intervention began on the 11 January after Islamist rebels threatened to move south. Colonial ties clearly still run deep, as Hollande responded decisively to pleas for help, sending in 4000 troops. Action has been deemed broadly successful by the international community, likened to the swift response of the Libya air strike.
This victory is desperately needed by the French President. Hollande has been faring poorly in the polls after several blunders, including the embarrassing failure of his 75% tax policy to be even declared constitutional.
His bold decision over Mali, however, prevented the situation from deteriorating beyond the point of rescue. Visiting Mali last week, Hollande thus received a hero’s welcome, raising his domestic approval rating to 40%.
Nevertheless, despite the jubilation, the end is not yet in sight for the President. Although Hollande acknowledges that the conflict is not over, this rhetoric is not consistent with the premature withdrawal of French forces. Malian troops are not yet ready to take on the role of peacekeepers, whatever their military may say to reassure the public.
Ethnic divisions threaten to complicate this mission, as well as humanitarian troubles caused by mass displacement of citizens and an ongoing food shortage. Mali is not simply an in-out operation, it requires structural change if the country is to remain secure.
Indeed, the French military must still decide whether to pursue Islamist forces who have withdrawn to the mountains. Although the cities may have resumed relative normality, the hostage problem remains to be tackled.
With the possibility of the struggle continuing comes the possibility of UK intervention. Although Cameron denies the prospect of direct deployment of British troops, the UK may be forced to involve itself more than originally intended. Blair, increasingly advising Cameron on his premiership, argues that the UK cannot afford to keep out of this conflict without endangering national security, a position Cameron may be forced to recognize.
The terror threat in the region remains prominent, regardless of the supposed success of the current crackdown. Intervention, though necessary, fuels speculation of a Western imperialist attitude, further alienating those who may later turn to extremist causes. The war on terror cannot just involve isolated military operations aimed to prevent extremists from presuming positions of power, as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq no doubt prove.
How to tackle the war on terror once and for all is no easy question, and thus presents no easy solution. However, treating each incident of terrorist activity as separate is not the answer.
More studies need to be made into the kind of socio-economic conditions that foster terror, and ways to deal with these at a grassroots level, instead of imposing the West’s military might on cultures unwilling to listen.
Though the Malian crisis may be subsiding, there is still a long way to go before terrorist threats are relegated to the history books.