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‘Mali a potential long-term, Afghanistan-like conflict for France’

Published time: January 17, 2013 15:53

Islamist insurgents in Gao, Mali (AFP Photo / Stringer)

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A lot of the terrorists the French are battling in Mali were well-trained by the US and know how US special forces operate, and can use that knowledge against American troops, Maloof said.

The US will likely assist with troops transportation to the region, which could eventually lead to a coup in the country. The situation may soon become a potential Afghanistan for France, Maloof warned.

RT: Militants have killed two foreigners and are holding foreign hostages at a gas field in Algeria. This is an apparent retaliation for the French offensive in Mali. Is this what Paris has been warned against?

Michael Maloof: Paris was fully aware, and I think the US is aware too. This demonstrates how Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb basically is coordinating their activities. This is a part of the overall Al-Qaeda plan to basically take that northern part of Africa as a stepping stone into Europe itself – and there have been threats in Paris already by Malians.

What is really tragic is the fact that the US trained a lot of these now-terrorists, who basically defected from the government and know many of our activities, and know how we operate from a special forces standpoint and can use them against us.

RT: Why did that training initiative go so badly wrong there?

MM: The training went great at the time when it happened. What happened is that they defected. The man who led the coup, [Capt. Amadou Sanogo], was a military man who was actually trained by the US forces. He has insight, and I think General [Carter F.] Ham, one of our top commanders [in Africa], basically declared that this is a disaster that we’re confronting this problem right now.

These troops are very well-trained. They were involved not only in Libya, but also in Mali. They basically turned: They were Tuaregs [nomadic tribes], now they’ve joined forces with AQIM, which is Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

RT: Before asking more about the rebels and their makeup, because it is so easy to call them Al-Qaeda, what about the fact that the US, should it not be obliged now to help France more, as people say it is the US fault? Or is Washington distancing itself from what is going on in Mali?

MM: Not at all. They are involved and providing intelligence and probably will be committing transport to bring in African Union’s troops from African countries. But this could be a double-edged sword, given the uncertainty and volatility within in Mali itself. Many of the foreign troops coming could actually stage their own coups and take over the country. So this is a very dicey situation. It also represents a potential long-term Afghanistan-like effect for France itself, and inadvertently it could suck the United States back yet into another war.

RT: So these groups are actually homegrown in Mali? Or has there has been an element of importation of Islamism coming from other countries?

MM: Both internal and external. They have foreign fighters who have been part of AQIM for some time and as I said earlier this is a part of the grand Al-Qaeda central strategy out of Pakistan these days. I think it’s laying a foundation to lay more attacks into Europe, ultimately. The EU is very concerned about it, I may add.

RT: What’s happening in Mali is provoking possible attacks from elsewhere. The French seem to want to stamp out Islamism and stop Islamists from taking not just the north of Mali, but also the rest of the country. Just bombing them and using a military exercise against them – does that really get rid of the ideology and the actual threat?

MM: No I don’t think so, because after doing something similar for 10 years in Afghanistan we’re ready to pull out and Taliban is ready to move back in. There’s just a question of how effective this approach is going to be. I think that is something the French have to weigh for themselves. This could bring other countries back into a long-drawn conflict. Already Germany is beginning to show some resistance to this and is concerned about the amount of help that they give simply because they see protracted effort such as the experience in Afghanistan.

RT: That is exactly what the rebels are saying. That France is falling into a trap and could be experiencing another Iraq, Afghanistan or another Libya. So you think they may be right here: France is taking on a challenge that it may not be able to cope with along with other countries?

MM: It is almost like a strategy on the part of the rebels to draw them in. I have to add that Russia has a lot to be concerned because it has investments in this region to protect. They of course agreed to the UN Security council resolution to provide assistance to the French. It’s a dicey situation and larger than Mali, per se. It could affect the entire North Africa and enter Europe. I think it is a concern from geostrategic and political standpoint. 

RT:So this conflict is going a lot longer, France is ambitious and positive this is going to be over very quickly. What about François Hollande? We start seeing troops with their first combat battles on the ground, 2,500 troops could be engaged on the ground there. If casualties start coming back and retaliate on French soil, what does that do for Hollande in the political situation there?

MM: I think it puts him ill-at-ease politically. Even though he put a strong stand that he’s going to fight them, to resist them, he has been just a recently elected president so he has ways to go. So, he will quickly see if Malian rebels would be able to do something in France, that could make citizens very concerned or they may just say ‘get out’ altogetherto avoid the conflict. He is in a very precarious situation now.

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