Military operation of France in its former colony Mali is going successfully. All strongholds of Islamists have been defeated, and the militaries have taken control over the country. French troops, however, do plan to stay long in the country. The military contingent will be withdrawn in March and replaced by troops of neighboring African countries. Moreover, France proposes to send UN peacemaking contingent in Mali, as well.

France started the military campaign in Mali against radical Islamic groups and Tuareg rebels, which seized power in northern part of Mali. UN Security Council sanctioned the operation on December 20, 2012, and on January 11 of this year French contingent landed in Mali.

The campaign was supported by EU states, US, Canada and many African states, but condemned by a number of Muslim countries.

In an interview with ForUm French journalist of Russian origin Galina Ackermann spoke about the causes and consequences of the campaign in Mali

– Mrs. Akkerman, how would you estimate Mali campaign?

- It was a very successful operation for France. First, almost the whole political class supported it: the left and the right parties, even the ultra right wing, led by Marine Le Pen. Only the minority of the far left and the Greens were against the campaigning. However, the Greens traditionally claim that any war is not good. Second, in contrast to the Afghanistan war, in which the Soviet troops and the Western countries suffered heavy losses, the Mali operation was clean and brought almost no loss to France. For all the campaign time, only one French military, a helicopter pilot, was killed and two or three people were injured.

- From the beginning of Mali campaign, France was held partially responsible for the conflict. Like, Tuaregs, who seized power in Mali, also got access to NATO weapons, including French weapons from the times of the military conflict in Libya of 2011.

- You know, Mali conflict started not yesterday. Tuaregs have been living in Mali for a long time, and they are very warlike people. On one hand they are farmers, on the other hand, their specialty is to rob passing-by caravans. Late Muammar Gaddafi supported these people and dreamt to create a Tuareg state, affiliated to Libya. He planned to govern half of Africa with the help of Tuareg troops.

When Jamahiriya fell, Libyan Tuaregs and Maghrebian Islamists seized the major part of weapons, including French one. When rebels took control of Libya, Tuaregs escaped to Mali and occupied the desert. When the militaries took control over Mali after the coup, they called Islamists to fight Tuaregs. However, it turned out that instead of fighting them, Islamists team up with Tuaregs. Now you know that the situation was serious, and France could not but interfere. 

- What about the accusations of "war against Islam"?

- The French authorities have always respected Islam, as any other religion. In this case, the matter concerns Islamists who overthrow legal power and impose Sharia law in its violent shape. Such practice has nothing to do with Islam. It is like if Catholic countries restore inquisition and start burning people again. Yes, it is a part of Christian history, but it simply cannot be applied nowadays. Thus, this war is not against Islam, but against terrorists.

- We all know that anti-terrorism wars, being held in Iraq or Afganistan, last long. Can the story repeat itself in Mali? May France get bogged down in this war?

- It is very difficult to eliminate Islamic threat. Terrorists are many and they move from one place to another. For the moment, Mali is under control, but we do not know what may happen after withdrawal of French troops. Will Africa be able to gather sufficient number of local troops? Will it be enough to control the situation? It is expected that Mali will hold elections soon, and the time will show...

Secret fears

- You said that French politicians backed the campaign, but how about ordinary citizens?

- The population expressed understanding and support. The fact is that France feels responsible for the situation in Mali, as this state was a French colony once. Though there are many nations living there, the national language is French. The idea that this state can be occupied by Islamists threatens the stability of the whole region. Today it is Mali, tomorrow it can be a neighboring state. This is a disease, which must be cured immediately.

- So what are French people afraid of?

- North Africa is right in front of France. If Mali was governed by Islamists, the flow of refugees would run to France. But the problem is that France is already full of immigrants, and the level of unemployment grows. We just do not need more refugees. We do not write and speak about it loud, but French people do have this kind of attitude.

- After the beginning of the campaign in Mali, the terrorists declared they would organize terrorist attacks on French territory. Have you strengthened the security measures?

- Of course we have. The control at the entrance to state institutions, public places, airports and railway stations has been enhanced, but there is no panic among the people. France has survived quite a number of terrorist attacks. We had bombs explode in metro, trade centers, restaurants. We cannot rule out the possibility of attacks, but prevention is the task of special services. Nobody can say that people live in fear.

French bonuses

- Is it true that French President Francois Hollande has gained some points thanks to the Mali campaign?

- Hollande happens to be one of the most unpopular presidents of France, as he came to power during the economic crisis and had to deal with big economic problems. But thanks to the successful campaign in Mali, his rating is growing. You know, carrying out a successful military operation without losses makes people respect you. 

- Hollande's opponents say the President started the campaign for the sake of his rating, not because of the Islamic threat. How important was the personal factor in this situation?

- You know, they say even small victorious war strengthens the authority if a ruler. Nevertheless, analysts agree that it was not a personal factor, but a necessity to protect global French interests in this region.

- How economically important is Mali for France?

- Without doubts, France had economical reasons to start the military campaign. Mali is a poor country, which lives on export of cotton, cattle breeding and gold mining. But it also has uranium deposits, and French state company "Areva" has a share in mining. Moreover, neighboring Nigeria also has uranium deposits, and mining is already in progress. France, as well as other western countries, does not want uranium to fall in the hands of Islamists.

- In December of 2012 President Hollande denied military support to another former French colony - Central African Republic. But in two weeks Paris started the campaign in Mali. What was the reason of such selectivity?

- Well, France does not agree easily on military operations. In particular, campaign in Libya was criticized by the majority of population, and France stood against the military campaign in Iraq. Paris is very selective and careful and acts only when its vital interests are under a threat.  This is what happened in Mali - France just does not want to be kicked out of North Africa.

Alina Yeremeyeva


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