Youssoufou Bamba, the Côte d’ Ivoire representative to the United Nations, has stated, “The clock is ticking and every day that passes brings more suffering to the population trapped in the areas controlled by the terrorists,” noting they are carrying out all kinds of criminal activities in northern Mali, “Inaction is no longer an option.”
In meeting with Mali’s Ambassador Al-Maamoun Keita on November 15, 2012, he was confident that UNSC Resolution 2071, passed on October 12, 2012, would finally allow the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) troops assist the Malian military to subdue the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and affiliates embedded in northern Mali. The Resolution noted the UN’s “readiness to respond to Mali’s request for an international military force, pending receipt of the Secretary-General’s report and recommendations on the situation,” with approval to take place within forty-five days. On November 16, 2012 a Reuters article noted, “Any foreign-backed offensive to retake control of northern Mali from al-Qaeda-linked Islamists will take at least six months to prepare, a delay that runs counter to the expectations of many Malians.”
The need for immediate action has not been supported by Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Susan Rice, both having stated they want the presidential election process and negotiations with the Islamists to take priority. Reuters noted that diplomats expressed time was needed so discussions can be held with the Ansar Dine Islamists, the outgrowth of the Tuareg separatist movement. In my discussions with several Tuareg elders, on September 10, 2012 in the Mintao Refugee Camp in Djibo, Burkina Faso, they stated that Ansar Dine affiliated with AQIM were responsible for many of the atrocities against the people, forcing almost 500,000 to flee the country. They also destroyed 13th century artifacts, libraries and mausoleums; severely damaged the 15th Century Sidi Yahya mosque in Timbuktu.
Reconciliation with the Islamists would be rewarding them for killing and maiming; destroying historical artifacts, sevaral of the elders noted. The Malian Diaspora in the refugee camps fear these radical Islamists, and would rather to stay in the camps than go back home to Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal where family members continue to suffer from on-going atrocities. Any negotiations with these Salafi Islamists would also be time consuming—something Mali cannot afford–since the influx of new recruits joining the AQIM movement continues daily unabated. Negotiating with these Islamists would further show a sign of weakness, and give them the confidence that they can ultimately win.
In the Reuters article a diplomatic source stated, “It is quite conceivable that there will be no military action for up to a year.” A planning document observed by Reuters, The Strategic Concept of Operations, provided for “180 days from the time the mandate is approved for forces to deploy in Mali, and retrain and equip the nation’s army which is in tatters since a March  coup and the subsequent rebel seizure of the north.”
The AQIM could have been subdued ever since 2003 when they infiltrated Mali’s northern frontier. Instead this desert region has become a safe haven for Islamists linked to al-Qaeda. U.S. intelligence sources have known that northern Mali was becoming a breeding ground for these terrorists. In 2005 the U.S. launched the “Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative,” a military training program in Mali, which included the twelve neighboring countries; additional training took place in 2007 by Special Operations Forces. The U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) had considered a base in northern Mali, but the idea never materialized. Our lack of continued military support to subdue the Islamists left the Sahel region unprepared to deal with the growing threat from the well-armed and financed Islamists. Northern Mali has become the ‘epicenter’ for terrorists coming from Niger, Chad, Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia, and as far away as Pakistan and Afghanistan.
With the large amount of weapons smuggled out of Libya, the Malian military was outgunned by the Islamists. In January 2012 over eighty soldiers were slaughtered in northern Mali. The frustration by the Malian military led to the ousting of President Amadou Toumani Toure in March 2012. Since then the Islamists have only increased in numbers. The July 5, 2012 UN Security Council Resolution 2056 was adopted to deal with the Islamists in northern Mali. However approval for action was withheld by the UN, which would have allowed ECOWAS military to intervene in Mali.
Meanwhile AQIM has expanded across the Sahel and north into Libya. Secretary Hillary Clinton and Ambassador Susan Rice continue to insist that the election process take place first, and discussions proceed with the radical Islamists. Mali government leaders told me early in September that the election process was on-track for April 2013. However military support, by ECOWAS, to subdue the Islamists was the urgent priority.
The Arab Spring started in Tunisia after the December 2010 self-immolation of the street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi. which led to President Ben Ali being deposed on January 18, 2011. The uprising inspired Egyptians, and soon President Hosni Mubarak was deposed on February 11, 2011. Libya’s uprising followed on February 17, 2011. The UN Security Council was quick to adopt Resolution 1973 on March 19, 2011, which sanctioned military operations by United States, British and Canadian forces, to undertake air attacks and a naval blockade. Seven months later on October 20, 2011 Muammar Gaddafi was killed—and Western military operations ceased on October 31, 2011.
The U.S. had wanted military action to take place immediately in Libya. In fact UN Ambassador Susan Rice inserted language in the Resolution which used the wording “all necessary measures” for the military assault on Libya, noting, “The future of Libya should be decided by the people of Libya.” A news article indicated “These plans for war are motivated not by any desire to protect the Libyan people or further the cause of democracy [but] the impending intervention in the oil-rich North African country is driven by profit interests and geopolitical imperatives that have nothing to do with the humanitarian pretenses of the major powers. The aim is to exploit the civil war in Libya to impose a regime that is even more subordinate to these powers and to the major Western oil conglomerates intent on exploiting the country’s resources.”
The Arab Spring, leading to the overthrow of the three dictators, has only emboldened the Muslim Brotherhood, and other Salafi Islamists wanting to establish Islamic states, ruled under Sharia law. Democracy, freedom, respect for human rights and differing religions, were not on their agenda. We could have learned from our incursion in Iraq and Afghanistan that the ultimate goal of the Islamists is to create Islamic states in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.
It is not too late for the U.S. to focus on Mali, where the AQIM is incubating terrorists for “the call to action.” The latest UNSC Resolution still does not fully address the growing danger of the Islamists infiltrating the Sahel region, and the need to authorize immediate military support in northern Mali, the epicenter for AQIM. The U.S. and NATO allies were quick to claim victory in North Africa, believing democratic institutions would follow. The reality is we aided the spread of the Islamic extremist movement across North Africa. We helped the Salafists add to the number of Arab League rulers, composed of dictators, monarchs and Emirs, who do not represent the interests of the Arab people, and suppress freedoms associated with democracy.
Secretary of State Clinton and UN Ambassador Rice were quick to act in support of the Arab Spring, and regime change in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, which from ‘start-to-finish’ took eleven months. However almost eleven months have passed in the case of Mali, with the UN and U.S. still asking for further information, before supporting military action against the AQIM responsible for the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. These Islamists could have been subdued long before their devastating terrorist attacks on September 11, 2012. No one foresaw the dangers from potential attacks by the Salafi Islamists. North Africa and the Sahel region are at risk of being taken over by these extremists, in their quest to establish a caliphate. Mali stands at the crossroads of re-establishing democracy, or becoming an Islamic state.