Since the uprising in northern Mali hundreds of thousands have sought refuge in neighboring countries such as Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Algeria, and Niger as the population braces the crackdown of the strict Islamist groups that have taken power in the region. The urgency of the matter is rapidly increasing as UN officials announce the rebel forces are compiling lists of unwed mothers, in order to continue their enforcement of their strict interpretation of Islamic code. Since taking power, reports from northern Mali of amputations, stoning, and executions have been commonplace. The risk of the radical fundamentalists maintaining their power and establishing a formidable ruling government is reason for great discomfort for governments in the region as well as around the globe.
In order to counter this growing threat, the Economic Community for West African States has requested UN Security Council approval to deploy forces to Mali. President Francois Hollande of France has ordered French surveillance drones to the region in order to assist the ECOWAS forces that will soon be on the offensive in north Mali. Many fear that the Sahel will become a training ground for terrorists much like Afghanistan in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.
The rise of the radical Islamists in northern Mali has been attributed by many to the destabilization of Libya. This fear became all the more prevalent after the terrorist strike on the United States Embassy in Libya killing four Americans including the United States Ambassador Chris Stevens. Mali has been gaining increasing attention abroad, even mentioned in the October 22nd presidential debate by presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Consideration has since been focused by the United States on providing West African nations and France with advisors while maintaining its belief that France must maintain the role of leadership in the operation.
Bringing together and coordinating a unified military force to deploy seems to the greatest challenge at this point, as military action is being postponed until mid-2013. The high cost as well as the complexity of organizing such a force has many worried that the Islamists in the north have too much time to strengthen their position and expand their influence in the region. In the time being, diplomatic actions are being taken to attempt to split the northern Islamists’ alliance and reduce the impact of the oppressive sharia law that has been implemented.