Here is a rare public presentation by the leader of the US Military’s Africa Command (Africom), General Carter F. Ham. While there is nothing surprising here there is commentary on the U.S. military’s position on the upcoming effort to oust rebels from Northern Mali. The General makes no bones about the fact that it is a very complicated situation given the intertwining of criminal, terrorist and political actors.
I think you are right to identify the presence of illicit networks, illegal trafficking in persons and drugs and weapons, financing – this is certainly present in the same region and the networks upon which that illicit trafficking is conducted are the same networks that support the terrorist organizations operating in northern Mali. One of the efforts that I think is important in an overall campaign plan – not just military – are to find opportunities to separate out the criminal aspects, separate out the politically motivated entities, and focus specifically on the terrorist presence and deal with the political in different ways.
The General goes on to say that he views the planning as an African affair with strategic inputs from the Americans and Europeans, presumably the French. He makes no mention of Special Forces involvement of the kind that is underway in Central Africa in the pursuit of Joseph Kony, but then again he is unlikely to telegraph strategy at a public gathering.
While the opportunities for a negotiated settlement seem dim, it is not at all clear that a force of ECOWAS alone troops will be trained and equipped enough to oust a band of heavily armed determined fighters who have had two years to dig in. Furthermore, as the discussion reveals, there is still no plan for the after-battle.
Winning the peace is not yet on the ECOWAS drawing board.