by Ambassador Christophe Bigot
Two long months have already passed since northern Mali, an area about the size of France, fell under the control of terrorists. This is a group of criminals, some of whom are part of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb; they are terrifying the local population, taking hostages, defiling holy places, financing themselves through smuggling and arming themselves with heavy weapons to boot. Last week, the group planned to expand its offensive, to take control of the city of Mopti and from there, the capital, Bamako, thus completing their takeover of the entire country to establish a reign of terror.
At the initiative of French President François Hollande, and at the request of Malian President Dioncounda Traoré, France decided to provide military aid and help Mali in its struggle against fanatic terrorist groups. France sent its air force to bomb the terrorists' convoys and their bases, and also sent ground troops to reinforce the Malian army.
Why did France decide to intervene? The threat hovered over Mali's territorial integrity as well as the regional stability of North Africa, and even the entire African continent. France decided that it must prevent the construction of a forward terrorist base at the gates of North Africa on the Mediterranean basin. Europe and the rest of the world could not stand by idly. Indeed, the world did not remain indifferent. Everyone welcomed French military action, which is being carried out in the framework of international law, based on U.N. Security Council Resolution 2085, adopted unanimously. The resolution officially recognized France as the ground-force leader for U.N. assistance in Mali.
The operation that has been conducted over the last week has also enjoyed the support of Mali's neighbors. Algeria allowed French air force planes to fly over its territory and closed its borders; the African Union and the U.S. both praised the military operation; some European countries have helped with the process; and a large number of member countries in the Economic Community of West African States promised to send troops, including Nigeria, Senegal, Niger, Benin and Burkina Faso.
The operation to assist Malian forces will continue as long as necessary, but no one has any intention of turning this into a long-term operation. Sometimes the use of force turns out to be crucial, when it is done legally, legitimately and after the failure of all other possibilities. In Mali, the use of force became a necessity; however, it is not an end in itself. Once the Malian forces are able to take control and mediate the terrorist threat, it will be necessary to create conditions for political dialogue and reconciliation among all citizens. Considering the reality of northern Mali, it must not be left wrapped in terrorism. It is essential that elections for the president and parliament take place as soon as possible. Work in the long term to promote the country's development is also critical, considering it is one of the poorest countries in the world.
This is all necessary because in today's interconnected world, Mali's fate has an impact that reaches much further than Timbuktu.
Christophe Bigot is the French ambassador to Israel.
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