How the International Plan for Mali Went Astray

There was always going to be some sort of international intervention in Mali. The Malian government wanted it; the neighboring countries were prepared to put their troops in harm’s way; and key western states backed an intervention in principal.

The key disagreement between the USA and France at the Security Council (prompting a memorable outburst by Ambassador Rice) was over the details of the intervention plan. France wanted an accelerated timetable for intervention; the USA wanted to delay the offensive to give time for politics in Bamako to improve and for the intervening troops to be properly trained and equipped.

The result of this disagreement was a Security Council resolution that authorized the deployment of an international intervening force, but demanded that the Secretary General certify the force’s readiness before offensive operations would commence. The French got the authorization for intervention it wanted. The USA got the delay it thought was necessary to ensure the success of the mission.

The offensive was not likely to begin for another 9 months or so, but events on the ground forced the international community’s hand.  With rebels threatening to sack another major city–this time much closer to the capital city — the Malian government asked France to urgently intervene. For the past three days, France has been pounding targets from the sky.

Though the timetable for intervention has accelerated, the underlying concerns about the conditions necessary for success are nowhere near resolved. For one, it is unclear on who’s behalf France is intervening. Politics in Bamako is schismatic and the junior officers who lead a coup last spring (which in many ways precipitated this crisis) are still calling the shots. That’s a problem. Another issue is that the Malian armed forces are in shambles. The delayed timetable for intervention was, in part, so these forces could receive training (including in human rights and civilian protection.) Finally, it is unclear that the 3,500 African troops called for in the Security Council resolution are properly equipped, trained, and up to the task.

Delaying intervention until these other pieces fell into place made sense. Alas, the intervention has begun, so we can expect much more improvisation than was initially envisaged.  That does not bode well for the chances of success of this mission.