The Islamists have taken over the northern half of the West African state of Mali and wish to topple the military government in Bamako. In an analysis recently published on the SFPPR website, Dr. Marek Chodakiewicz proposes how to remedy this disturbing turn of events.
As Dr. Chodakiewicz points out, northern Mali’s Islamists were emboldened by the recent civil war in Libya, which culminated in Western intervention and the overthrow and death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Chaos in Libya allowed military hardware to pour into northern Mali via the lands inhabited by the nomadic Tuareg peoples in neighboring Niger and Algeria. The Tuareg question, in fact, is a major factor in the crisis in Mali. Many of the Islamists fighting the Bamako government are of Tuareg ethnicity, although other jihadists are Arab or black African. Further, the Tuareg nationalists-who are not Islamists, but nevertheless religious Muslims-have been fighting to carve out their own ethnic state. They formed a reluctant alliance with the Islamists in northern Mali based on some common interests. One way to split this alignment would be to woo the Tuareg nationalists.
It is clear that the West, and the United States and France in particular, must step in. However, they should eschew direct military involvement. Instead, Washington and Paris would be wise to covertly support the natives-by providing intelligence and logistical assistance, for example-thereby defeating the Islamist threat by proxy. As in any other “hot spot,” prudence and integrated strategic thinking are sine qua non.