January 20, 2013

David Rohde: Threat to Mali, region is real

The fear of quagmire may be understandable, but the French were right to intervene.

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The Islamist fighters have taken control of northern Mali with surprising speed, are well organized, heavily armed and in control of a desert area the size of France. Their fighters include members of al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb, a North Africa-based group allied with al Qaeda. In the future, they could easily use Mali as a base to carry out attacks in France and Europe.

Until now, the group has not said it intends to carry out attacks in the United States, but members of the groups are believed to have been involved in the murder of the American ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three other Americans. They have also amassed an estimated $100 million by kidnapping Westerners and demanding enormous ransoms. 

Robert Fowler, a Canadian diplomat who was kidnapped by the group in 2009, said his captors told him their hope was to create an Islamic emirate that spanned Africa. Their goal was to spread chaos from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

"They would tell me repeatedly that their objective was to extend the chaos of Somalia across the Sahel to the Atlantic coast," Fowler said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "They believed that in that chaos their jihad would thrive."

My perspective is not neutral. Four years ago two Afghan colleagues and I were kidnapped by the Taliban and held captive for seven months in Pakistan. I saw their brutality, ignorance and determination first-hand.

I believe economic growth is the best way to counter militancy, not massive Western military interventions. To me, a threat exists from militancy; it is not manufactured. Yet we declare that there is no threat or grow impatient when it is not quickly solved.

France faces months of casualties and conflict, but that should be expected. Quick solutions are illusory. So are claims that we can ignore violent militants. Countering militancy involves a combination of limited military force, expansive diplomacy and patience. We rarely show those qualities. I hope the French do.

Maine native David Rohde is a columnist for Reuters, a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and a former reporter for The New York Times and Christian Science Monitor. His work will be appearing in the Maine Sunday Telegram starting today.

 

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