A quick survey on developments in Mali:
France has put boots on the ground. They have requested the US provide surveillance drones. Speculation in the article, or perhaps it is a trial balloon, indicated the US will assist. Several countries near Mali have troops on the scene.
This report on January 8 reported the rebels were advancing south, approaching Mopti. The article says 4000 soldiers of the 9000 strong Malian army quit last year. Only half of those have reenlisted.
The rebels have taken control of the city of Konna, in the center of the country. Government troops fell back after a battle involving heavy weapons.
Here is a description of the groups involved on the rebel side:
The Islamist rebels—a coalition of three groups including Ansar Dine, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, or Mujao—have been implementing a strict version of Islamic law in the north, carrying out public executions, amputations and whippings.
In one sentence here is why this is important:
The Islamists are carving out their own country in northern Mali and making it a center for extremism, threatening neighboring countries, according to security experts.
The post has a superb map that highlights the rebels having taken control of Konna. You can see on the map how close they are to the city of Mopti.
The international intervention in Mali has finally begun: French troops are on the ground and warplanes in the sky, helping Malian soldiers fight Islamist militants who have taken over the northern part of the country. Just in the past few days the (loosely but dangerously) al Qaeda-linked militants advanced south toward the capital, panicking residents and accelerating international plans to come to the rescue.
WSJ – French Pilot Killed in Mali –
France lost a helicopter pilot on Friday in a battle near Mopti, in the center of the country. That is a little south of Konna.
WSJ – Those Unilateral French
In an editorial, the WSJ approves the French intervening unilaterally instead of waiting for the non-stop talk at the U.N. to change from non-stop talk to action.