The situation in Mali continues to worsen and fears that it could turn into a Somalia-like failed state are growing.
Mali is a huge, arid nation extending from the Sahara Desert and Algeria’s border in the north to the steamy south along the Niger River. Most of Mali’s 14.5 million people eke out an existence farming and fishing.
After two-thirds of the country fell into the hands of Tuareg rebels and Islamists linked to al-Qaida, fears that northern Mali could descend into an extremist stronghold and become a failed state have been gaining traction.
Earlier this month, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Mali “a powder keg that the international community cannot afford to ignore.”
“We cannot allow terrorism to take root in an area beyond all lawful control in northern Mali,” said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who stressed that the mission would not take the form of boots on the ground. “African leadership is key,” he said. “The point is not that we deploy combat troops.”
Now, European Union foreign ministers have agreed to take steps toward sending a non-combat, military training mission to the country to prevent it from becoming a terrorist haven. At a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday, European Union foreign ministers agreed to draft plans for a military mission in Mali, where President Amadou Toumani Toure was toppled in a coup in March.
“It is in our interest to help stabilize Mali,” said Westerwelle. “We have to avoid at an early stage the development of a second Somalia, without any rule of law,” he stressed. “Because then there are going to be founded further terrorist schools that will endanger our situation here in Europe too.”
Catherine Ashton, EU chief of foreign affairs, echoed the sentiment. “We believe there is a real risk for the region if Mali remains an ungoverned space, free for terrorists and drug traffickers to operate,” she said.
The EU move comes on the heels of the United Nations Security Council giving West African nations 45 days to offer details of a plan for military intervention. It also asks U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to provide military and security planners to help the West African bloc ECOWAS and the African Union organize the proposed force.
France’s defense minister says an international military operation to help oust Islamic militants from northern Mali will get under way in a matter of weeks. Jean-Yves Le Drian spoke to France 2 television on Tuesday, days after the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution clearing the way for the deployment of foreign troops to Mali. He said France will not send any troops, but will provide logistical support.
Mali’s interim government requested the forces to help drive out the militant groups that took control of northern Mali following a coup earlier this year.
ECOWAS has offered to send about 3,000 soldiers to stabilize Mali, rebuild the country’s army and help oust the militants in the north.
The Security Council must still approve a more detailed plan in a second resolution.
France was a sponsor of the resolution which the Council unanimously passed on Friday, and has led the call for action in Mali in the Security Council to try to revive stalled attempts to deal with the crisis, warning that it could destabilize the Sahel, a belt of land with nearly a dozen of the world’s poorest countries on the southern rim of the Sahara.