Unlike those claiming that the Mali War will be worse than Afghanistan, I predict the reality will turn out quite different. In fact, the War in Mali will be one of the quickest wars this world has seen in decades. While no war should be associated with a cakewalk, in this case I am doing just that.
While I wrote a similar piece to this one in The Libyan War Is Practically Over, when I made that prediction the war had been raging for 6 months. It took an excruciatingly long time and was touch and go more times than I care to remember. Once again, I want to thank the French for their efforts. Without France the Libyan War, and the War in Mali, would have been lost.
The World’s responsibility to its fellow man must not be overlooked. Violence and chaos result when we look the other way. Now, if only the French could get the rest of the world involved in Syria…….
How did this happen
Only a year ago, Mali was supposedly a model of democracy in Africa. Today it is more like a failed state that came dangerously close to being overrun by al Qaeda.
Mali’s fall from grace began in March when Mali soldiers rebelled against the government. The rebellion was due to the meager resources and support these soldiers received to fight a band of Tuareg rebels in the north. Rather than continue the fighting they returned to Bamako, Mali’s capital in the South, and staged a coup.
Seizing upon the opportunity offered by a disintegrating Malian army in the North, and buoyed by more weapons and more fighters from Libya and elsewhere, the Tuareg rebels swiftly took Mali’s northern territories as the army staged their own coup in the South. Within 48 hours after the Southern capital fell to the army, the three main northern cities fell to the Tuareg and their allies.
The Tuareg, fresh from Libya had fled that country when their benefactor, Muammar Gaddafi, was overthrown. They are a nomadic tribe, indigenous to the Sahara, so it only makes sense that they would return home. What should have been obvious was that they would also bring their heavy weapons, training, and sense of self, received during their stay in Libya.
The Tuareg were not alone in their fight. They allied themselves with foreign terrorist organizations, the largest being al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM. The AQIM have been operating in Northern Africa for years waiting for just this kind of opportunity. Fortunately, as I will explain in a moment, once the North was overrun the Tuareg watched their rebellion slip away as al Qaeda evicted them from the area. The Tuareg lost their last stronghold of Ansongo, in mid-July 2012.
In the end, al Qaeda gained control of an area the size of France in Mali’s north, at very little cost to themselves. The fact that this area is mostly desert, seems to be lost to much of the world.
The Art of War
Wars depend on a number of things but the most important rule to consider is who you are fighting. While it is true that initially AQIM was fighting a second rate force, they are now looking into the eye of the tiger and total destruction.
No amount of AQIM bravado or bluster can overcome the fact that they are now up against France, one of the most modern and well-trained armies on earth, along with all of the African nations that surround them. On top of this the USA and Great Britain, although barely involved, are donating enough supplies that makes them another force to be reckoned with.
If all this power fails to impress AQIM, or those who claim this will be a long protracted war, then a second important rule to consider in warfare is the terrain of the battlefield. Mali, especially the North, is synonymous with the Sahara which means it has no mountains to speak of, no jungles to hide in, and no large cities with an abundance of human shields.
Before the 21st century, dessert terrain was a formidable obstacle and those who knew the dessert could attack randomly at will in any place, at any time, and melt away in an instant. Those who pursued them could never be sure of which way the enemy went, while worrying about constant dangers like stumbling into an ambush, getting lost, or dying of thirst. When fighting a second rate enemy, the desert to this day can still be used to your advantage.
On the other hand, today’s modern army with aircraft, global positioning, and satellite information at their fingertips makes the desert a completely different story. Those who are caught in the desert by these forces, without modern forces of their own, are nothing more than sitting ducks.
Timbuktu, constantly mentioned as an ancient city, had its glory days centuries ago. In 2009, it had no more than 55000 inhabitants, making it only a shadow of its former self. Even when the numbers of civilian casualties are considered, this is not much of an obstacle for a modern air force supported by modern ground troops.
Divide and Conquer
Al Qaeda’s strength in Mali is no more than a few thousand. They are perceived as being more, but that is because the initial success was so swift and they had the local Tuareg on their side. This led the rest of Mali to have a false belief that they were up against a much larger force leading to disenchantment and plummeting moral. Moral being another crucial consideration when it comes to warfare. With no one to rally around, the divided Southern army remaining in the North melted away whenever a few enemy soldiers showed up and shot at them.
After turning against the Tuareg, AQIM continued to divide and conquer. Fortunately, this time they overreached and did it to themselves. Their ideology could not wait for their goal to be completed. Instead, they felt it more important to get rid of their allies, ban music and sports, and force women to veil themselves. Their crimes against humanity include destroying ancient treasures and artifacts as being heretical, chopping off limbs, performing executions, and alienate themselves in a host of ways without a thought of first gaining local support.
AQIM used methods that clearly alarmed everyone. It is no wonder they are now despised by the locals, and the rest of the civilized world. They are in reality, their own worst enemy.
This brings us to our final rule of warfare, which is of course, popular support. As already mentioned, AQIM has ruined all chances they might have had in this war. In fact, they are now so despised by the people, they held hostage for 9 months, that they have few people to help hide them, and plenty of people dying to turn them in. With enemies all around, they have nowhere to run. Of course, they could always try for the desert where, as stated above, they become sitting ducks.
In the end, when it comes to warfare you often only get one chance. Aside from what I have mentioned already, there are thousands of more details to consider. Some armies are blessed with a born general who knows the importance of building defenses and increasing their army’s numbers. They spend years building a network among the locals and their own men, and they NEVER move before they are ready. Fortunately for the world, al Qaeda in the Maghreb has none of these things.
More on military tactics are provided in Military Tactics.