Deep background on Mali

If you are interested in what’s happening across northern Africa, especially Mali, here are two articles with more in-depth reporting than you will see anywhere else.

Adam Garfinkle in American Interest:

The articles in one sentence: the situation in Mali is vastly, phenomenally more complicated that you realized with implications going far beyond Mali that you hadn’t thought about.

First, his editorial comment from the first article on the shallowness of mainstream reporting:

Speaking of full-frontal ignorance, this brings me to the only real revelation in the New York Times story…

How’s that for a good turn of phrase?  Full-frontal ignorance.

Items missing from current reporting:

The upshot is that unless a reader brings his or her own stock of knowledge to bear, he or she would never know that Mali is an extreme example of a modern state cobbled together from various ethnic and religious groups. (Look up an ethnographic map of Mali and you will see that, even by West African standards, it looks like a jigsaw puzzle.) One would never know, until a passing phrase toward the very end of the article, that the Tuareg are the main group that has been in periodic revolt against the central government for decades. One would never know that the catalyst for what has been going on in this country, as well as in neighboring Niger for many months now, was the Obama Administration’s decision to start a war in Libya. One would never know that the Tuareg are kindred to the Berbers who are rising, and raising hell, all over North Africa. One would never know that the Tuareg founded a vast empire long before the advent of European colonialism, and that their capital was then, as it is again now, Timbuktu. One would not even know from this article that the victorious Tuareg declared the independent state of Azawad in what they consider to be reclaimed, liberated territory, back in the beginning of last year.

There’s a huge amount of information in that one paragraph I didn’t know. But then I know I don’t have a clue.

After looking at the ethnographic map, I don’t have any idea how you could make a country work with those artificial borders.

In the second article, he provides background on the whatever-the-northern-group-is-called.

What scale of problem are we talking about here anyway? Judging from publicly available news sources, the enemy looks small and manageable, certainly no larger in plain numbers than what the French faced, and faced down, in the Ivory Coast not that long ago. There are four groups making up what I will for the sake of simplicity call “the bad guys.” There are secular Tuareg units, two Islamist militias, and some non-Tuareg “guest fighters”, almost exclusively Arabic-speaking and associated with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The Arabic-speakers seem to hail mainly from Algeria, being the residual cadres of Algeria’s civil war (now in remission), and from Libya. The total adds to around 3,000, operating in an environment unusually kind to airpower. We’re reduced virtually to guesswork at this point as to how these four groups relate to and cooperate with one another.

He then goes through his analysis.  He thinks it would take minimal recruiting and motivation to expand to a bad guy force of 5,000 or 12,000. To pacify that would take a force ten times larger (read the article for an education on his reasoning). Even with opposition of 5,000, the French and allies would need around 50,000 troops on the ground. The French force of 2,500 plus 3,000 from ECOWAS, assuming they are provided and are reasonably well-trained, would not be sufficient to do anything but hold the southern area already controlled.

He sees a not very good immediate future.

And then there is the logistic issue of getting troops in-country and moving them where needed.

Check out the articles. They are long but provide superb background.

Hat tip: Via Meadia – Mali: A Car Wreck in Slow Motion

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