On January 11, a few hundred French troops and a handful of fighter jets and gunships launched a campaign against Islamist terrorists in Mali, a West African desert vastness larger than Texas and California combined. This former French colony appealed to Paris for aid to throw back a mixed al Qaeda-rebel advance on the capital, Bamako.
But France, no more than the US, had learned from the Afghanistan War that Al Qaeda cannot be beaten by aerial warfare – certainly not when the jiahdists are highly trained in special forces tactics and backed by highly mobile, well-armed local militias, armed with advanced anti-aircraft weapons and knowledgeable about conditions in the forbidding Sahara.
Within 48 hours, this modest “crusader” intervention had united a host of pro-al Qaeda offshoots and allies, some of them castoffs from the army of Libya’s deposed Muammar Qaddafi.
They are led by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb – AQIM; the West African jihadist MUJAO; and the Somali al-Shabaab which is linked to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula – AQAP. Together, they are threatening to execute one by one the 10 or eleven French hostages they are holding as part of their revenge on France.