French air-strikes open Mali intervention

France carried out air-strikes against Islamist rebels in Mali Jan. 11, helping government forces halt a drive southward by the militants who control the country's desert north. France also evidently has introduced ground forces, with President Francois Hollande saying French troops "have brought support this afternoon to Malian units to fight against terrorist elements." He added: "This operation will last as long as is necessary." Combined Malian and French forces turned back a rebel advance, retaking the town of Konna (Mopti region, see map) that had been seized by a mixed force of the militant groups Ansar Dine and MUJAO, apparently with fighters from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Mali's government declared a nation-wide state of emergency as the counter-offensive was launched.

President Dioncounda Traore used a televised address to call upon on Malians to unite to "free every inch" of the country, pledging a "powerful and massive riposte against our enemies." He said he had "called for and obtained France's air support within the framework of the international legality," pointing to last month's UN Security Council resolution sanctioning an African-led military intervention in Mali.

Gen. Carter F. Ham, head of US Africa Command, who was traveling in neighboring Niger at the time of the French attack, hailed it as sucessful: "If there was an intent by the bad guys to continue the attack, that appears to be been stopped, maybe even slightly reversed." US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, asked whether the President Traore had requested specific kinds of military support, said: "It wasn't specific, but it basically said, 'Help, France!'"

The UN-sanctioned intervention force, to be led by the West African bloc ECOWAS, is not due to arrive in Mali until Semptember. Earlier this week, African Union chairman Thomas Boni Yayi said NATO should send forces to Mali to fight the Islamists.

The taking of Konna, seems to have forced the issue. The rebel advance caused panic among residents in the towns of Mopti and Sevare, some 60 kilometers to the south. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton called for "accelerated international engagement" and said the bloc would speed up plans to deploy 200 troops to train Malian forces, expected to arrive in late February. Peace talks between the Malian government, Ansar Dine and separatist Tuareg rebels in Burkina Faso have now been postponed at least until Jan. 21. (Reuters, NYT, North Africa United, DW, Xinhua, BBC News, Jan. 11)

Glenn Greenwald betrays Malians. What a surprise.

Well, BBC News reports Jan. 14 that the jihadists have already rallied for a counter-attack, and have succeeded in taking the town of Diabaly, which is home to a key Malian army base (and, ominously, in Ségou region, to the south of Mopti). 

And if you've been wondering, as we have, how long before the lefties are bleating "Hands off Mali", without any understanding of what has been going on there over the past year—well, the predictable Glenn Greenwald has of course risen to the occasion. His piece in The Guardian pays the usual cursory lip-service (as an afterthought, towards the end) to the notion that "the Malian rebels have engaged in all sorts of heinous atrocities" (gee, thanks)—but this after decrying that they have been labelled as "terrorists"! And just before engaging in the false equivalence of portraying the Malian government as no better.

We have no wish to make excuses for either the Malian state or French imperialism, but this is the usual transparent jive. By completely failing to grapple with the question of what kind of solidarity the world owes the Malians, Greenwald has no moral standing to oppose the intervention. And, as we have pointed out regarding the conflict in Syria, making the question entirely about what "we" (meaning the West) should or shouldn't do is self-obsessed arrogance—whether it is pro-intervention or anti-intervention. Greenwald hones in on use of the word "terrorist," as if the potential for the jihadists attacking the West is all that matters. The Malians getting stoned to death for pre-marital sex, or having their hands amputated for stealing bread, or the Fulani nomads who have been cleansed from their homeland? Who cares? Fuck 'em.

Has Greenwald offered a single word of encouragement to the Malians who are forming their own self-defense militias to defend against the Islamists—or, more ambitiously, to take back their country without Western intervention?

Get back to us when you have, Glenn.