It may be a long while before we know the details about France’s sudden intervention in Mali. After all, Mali’s armed forces lost control of parts of the country many years ago. Mali’s political leaders have asked for help many months ago. Yet, suddenly, France, with little warning, launched an aerial bombing campaign to push back armed Salafi groups, Ansar al-Din, who were seen (by satellite and surveillance airplanes) rapidly moving south, possibly towards the capital, Bamako. When the bombing failed to dislodge the Ansar, France decided to insert ground troops which would mean that this intervention will be a long one.
The surprise intervention might have a military value, but it also risked the lives of many civilians since it did not give governments any time to upgrade security around vulnerable facilities. The workers taken hostage in Algeria is just one example.
The French intervention highlights another problem. The west does not seem to have a principled strategy to deal with the changes taking place in the Arab world. First most western governments hesitated to support the peaceful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. Additionally, western governments continue to support the Arab authoritarian rulers of the Gulf States (French president was visiting UAE when his forces launched the attacks). Still, the same governments provided unlimited support to armed, violent rebels in Libya and Syria. Without doubt, the groups France is fighting in Mali are not that different from the groups it supported in Libya and is supporting now in Syria.
The most alarming thing is that the Jihadi Salafis western governments are now fighting come from the same generation of fighters they trained in Afghanistan. That means that they are yet to deal with the generation of Libya and Syria Jihadi fighters they have sponsored, which means that the west’s conflict with violent Salafi groups is made perpetual.