When France entered the world’s newest war against terrorism, French officials boldly declared that the ragtag radical Islamists they planned to oust from northern Mali would scatter in the face of a modern fighting force.
But two weeks later, reality has sunk in. Even as they bombard Islamist targets, the French troops are facing a military landscape that is far more complicated than it appeared at the outset, raising questions about France’s long-term goals.
With no clear exit strategy, the French are encountering a host of problems: Mali’s interim government is weak, its military is disorganized, and a long-promised African intervention force is far from ready. Even as French troops worry about killing civilians, it is unclear who the civilians are and where their sympathies lie. Ethnic, religious and regional rivalries, as well as old and unsettled vendettas, also are posing obstacles. . .