23 November 2012

Nigeria: Military Intervention in Mali


After many months of negotiations, the United Nations finally agreed with regional powers to intervene militarily and drive Tuareg rebels out of northern Mali and restore central authority to the entire country.

Driven by concerns that the rebels, who seized territory in March this year, are affiliated to Al-Qaeda, the international community appeared to have been persuaded by ECOWAS to preserve Mali's territorial integrity. Under the plan, Mali will provide some 3000 soldiers; the 14-member ECOWAS bloc is to provide another 3000, which would now be supported by a sizeable number of special forces, mainly from France and the United Nations, to provide intelligence, logistics and aerial cover and surveillance.

The imperative for a military solution to return northern Mali to central government control is informed by several factors, including the fact that since that part of Mali fell into the hands of the Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), residents of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu--three main cities-and indeed other parts of the north, have witnessed draconian form of legal codes, like amputations of limbs and beheadings. Furthermore, bans have been imposed on alcohol, smoking, watching television and playing music--all of which have traumatized Malians in the north and caused many to flee to the south.

Taking the fight to the rebels in Mali has a lot to do with the threat of terrorism and insecurity spreading from Mali to other areas of West Africa and the continent at large. Already, increasing number of countries such as Somalia, Uganda and Nigeria, are struggling to surmount local insurgencies. The insurgents in Mali have been able to sustain the fight because of access to light arms and other weapons that flowed out of Libya following the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. Moreover, the AQIM have ignored entreaties to recognize the delineated places harbouring valuable Arabic and religious manuscripts such as Timbuktu World Heritage centres; they have already destroyed many cultural arts and artefacts.To allow this situation to continue as well as permit an avowed regime sworn to spreading its brand of fundamentalism to entrench itself in Mali would amount to giving it free rein in propagating its violent creed. This potentially could destabilize the sub-region and even spread wider.

It was just as well that the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2071 enabling the UN to use all possible means, including the use of force, to eject AQIM and the other disparate forces from the north of Mali. Out of the 3000 soldiers required from countries in the sub-region,Nigeria will be providing between 650 and 700.

In an earlier editorial on the matter, we argued that since Nigerian soldiers are involved in the biggest peace time deployment owing to internal security challenges, Nigerian soldiers should not be involved in Mali. With additional information on the linkage of the Mali situation and the Nigerian security challenges we have reconsidered our position.

Nigeria's commitment, while not popular at home,is in keeping with its leadership role, and would encourage other countries to expeditiously provide their own personnel.But assembling the foot-soldiers might be the easy part, and forging them into a united and cohesive force to confront the forces of the Islamists would pose a big challenge. The Malian army as is presently constituted is thoroughly demoralized, and clearly lacks the indiscipline required. That much was why the soldiers were routed by the AQIM forces. It will therefore take some measure of training to bring them to the level of war preparedness.

Since the campaign is under the aegis of the United Nations, funding would not pose too much of a problem. Even so, adequate provision must be made to ensure that payment of allowances does not become an issue. It could be a long and bloody campaign, so it is important that training and knowledge of the terrain should precede it for a reasonable expectation of success.

While the military planning goes ahead, there should be a parallel arrangement to stabilize the country in the aftermath, including building governance institutions and providing economic support.

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