Monday, January 14, 2013

French Mission in Mali 'Is Not Without Risk'

A report on French military operations in Mali, at Der Spiegel:

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And Germany, on Monday, unexpectedly became one of them. The government in Berlin has announced that it is prepared to provide cargo planes as well as medical personnel. Andreas Peschke, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Berlin, said that Germany did not want to "leave France alone in this difficult hour."

On Sunday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that several other allies, including the United States, Britain, Denmark and other countries in Europe, had offered assistance, though none have indicated a willingness to send troops and warplanes. The US has offered communications, transportation and intelligence support. Sources in Copenhagen on Monday told the German news agency DPA that Denmark was considering the provision of active support. Several African countries have pledged to send troops as well.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Sunday once again ruled out the deployment of German troops. "The involvement of a German fighting force is not up for debate," he said. Still, Berlin has voiced support for the French offensive. "France has acted and that was decisive, correct and deserves our support," German Defense Minster Thomas de Maizière said on German radio on Monday.

Germany also remains involved in a European Union effort to develop plans for a military training mission to Mali. On Sunday, Westerwelle said: "The development of plans for an EU training mission for the Malian military will continue. Whether and how Germany will participate will be decided when the plans are complete."

Widely Applauded

For now, Hollande hasn't just gotten support from abroad either. Despite his vow to scale back France's decades-long support of Francophone Africa, the move to block the Islamist advance has been widely applauded in France.

But the mission, which began last Friday after Islamists began moving south toward the Malian capital of Bamako, is not without its dangers. French forces have spent the last several days pounding Islamist strongholds in northern Mali, including near Gao and Kidal, the epicenter of the rebellion. But the Islamists are well armed, flush with weapons that flooded into the country from Libya and they managed to shoot down a French helicopter early in the offensive, killing the pilot. Currently, some 550 French troops are on the ground in Mali according to news reports.

In addition, the offensive puts the lives of eight French hostages, who are likely being held by their abductors in northern Mali, in danger. Furthermore, a second French commando, wounded in a failed French attempt over the weekend to rescue a Frenchman held hostage in Somalia since 2009, has died according to the Somali rebel group al-Shabaab on Monday. It is believed that the hostage too was killed.

Paris believes that the offensive against Islamists in Mali could put its citizens at even greater risk of attack from Islamist extremists. Indeed, Paris has ordered increased domestic security.

For now, though, Hollande has widespread domestic support and the backing of the international community. German commentators are also largely backing the move on Monday although many seem uncertain what response would be the most appropriate for Berlin.
Also, at Telegraph UK, "Al-Shabaab publishes alleged photograph of dead French commando." And Long War Journal, "Shabaab releases photos of French commando captured in failed rescue mission."