French military invasion in Mali escalates regional tensions
Jan. 17 — France has escalated its military intervention into the West African state of Mali with increased bombing operations in the north, central and east of the country and the deployment of additional troops. Paris says it will soon have more than 2,000 military personnel occupying Mali. Progressive and anti-war groups, including some in France and throughout Europe, have spoken out against the French imperialist assault on Africa.
Meanwhile, in neighboring Algeria, a group of armed combatants — in opposition to the invasion of Mali — took control Jan. 16 of the In Amenas gas field, partially operated by BP Corporation and Statoi and owned by the Algierian government. Hundreds of Algerian nationals and foreign personnel were taken into custody by the group, which media reports call “Islamists” associated with the “Battalion of Blood” led by Abu al-Baraa.
A raid was carried out today by Algerian Special Forces units. Nearly 600 of the Algerian workers were released from the facility, while several foreigners employed at the field from Belgium, the United States, Japan and Britain also survived the Algerian military assault.
According to Reuters, “Thirty hostages and at least 11 Islamist militants were killed. Two Japanese, two Britons and a French national were among at least seven foreigners killed.” (Jan. 17) Other reports, not yet verified, indicated that approximately 50 people died in the raid.
The same article continues, “Eight of the dead hostages were Algerian. The nationalities of the rest, as well as of perhaps dozens more who escaped, were unclear.”
Algerian military forces were engaged in the operation at In Amenas for eight hours after the government refused to grant a demand that the combatants be allowed to leave the country with those detained. The bodies of Egyptians, Tunisians, Libyans and at least one Malian and a Frenchmen were reportedly found at the scene of the firefight.
U.N. Security Council, European foreign ministers back occupation
The French government went before the 15-nation U.N. Security Council Jan. 14 and won approval for its bombing mission in Mali. The U.S. is supporting the invasion by helping to airlift troops into Mali. (CBS Evening News, Jan. 17)
On Jan. 17, European foreign ministers approved the deployment of troops purportedly to help train Malian forces to fight against the insurgents in the north and central regions of the vast country. Although the foreign ministers claimed that their respective states outside of France would not participate in ground operations, they noted that this position may soon change.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius of France said in the aftermath of the European decision, “It is possible, but it remains the responsibility of the other countries involved whether they decide not only to provide logistical support, but also to provide combat troops. But we cannot force them to do it.” (euronews.com, Jan. 17)
In the same article, the Western-backed government in Mali, through its Foreign Minister Tieman Hubert Coulibaly, praised the decision by the European states. He stressed, “All European countries today declared their support, not only for the action taken by the French Foreign Minister, but also for what we are doing on the ground.”
The meeting of the European ministers indicated that the support mission for the French military bombing and ground invasion would last for fifteen months at a cost of 12 million euros.
French fighter jets bombed Douentza, some 500 miles from the capital of Bamako on Jan. 15. The Islamists had held the town since September.
In addition, the cities of Timbuktu and Gao were also struck by Rafale war planes, killing many people and forcing thousands to flee the surrounding areas.
Later a spokesman for the Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith) group, Senda Ould Boumama, stated that they had withdrawn from the main cities and towns in the north of the country as a “tactical retreat” aimed at minimizing civilian injuries and deaths. A leader of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), Abou Dardar, stressed, “France has attacked Islam. We will strike at the heart of France.” (naharnet.com, Jan. 15)
Growing opposition to French imperialist intervention
The World Federation of Trade Unions issued a statement opposing the intervention in Mali by France. The WFTU Secretariat partly states, “After the genocide in Rwanda and the demolition of Libya, France continues to use the military bases it maintains in Africa in order to strengthen its role in the inter-imperialist competition and to serve the interests of its monopoly groups who are plundering the wealth-producing resources (gold, uranium, etc.).” (Jan. 15)
The Workers’ Party of Belgium denounced Brussels involvement in the Malian invasion, saying, “As the former colonial power, France continues to have huge economic interests in the region.” (fightbacknews.org, Jan. 16)
The statement also noted, “Mali possesses gold mines and petroleum, while also uranium is extracted in the region, which is used for part of the French nuclear industry. Just like with the deadly NATO bombing of Libya two years ago, Belgium has been very quick to offer its participation to the French military intervention. And this is taking place without any democratic debate about its objectives, consequences or cost. In a period of painful austerity measures and cuts in the social budgets, any increase in the Defense budget is simply cynical.”