The question from a colleague – one whose work I admire – could have come from anyone in the United States.
“So the French,” he asked, “now have their own Afghanistan?”
The answer is yes and no. Western military interventions should be carried out only as a last resort. But Mali today is a legitimate place to act.
Several thousand jihadists threaten to destabilize Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Algeria. Beyond the human rights abuses, their attacks will discourage foreign investment, paralyze local economies and produce vast numbers of refugees. Skeptics play down the threat, but the instability these extremists create will spread over time.
The tragic kidnapping in Algeria, where many hostages appear to have died in a botched rescue attempt today, is already prompting oil companies to pull foreign workers out of the region. Islamists can’t be ignored and won’t disappear. They should be confronted or contained. The question is how.
To ensure that Mali is not another Afghanistan, it is vital that France and the international community have reliable allies on the ground. They should mount diplomatic and economic efforts ‑ not just lethal force ‑ against the jihadists as well.