French-Islamist Mali War Maps Batch One - The French Counterattack
French-Islamist Mali War Maps Batch Two - Geography as a Barrier to the Islamists
French-Islamist Mali War Maps Batch Three - French Advancing in the International War
French-Islamist Mali War Maps Batch Four - Final French Drive to Victory and Cartoon Propaganda Maps
From fall up until the end of 2012 the Islamists were busy setting up an Islamic emirate in northern Mali with Sharia law and the destruction of the Sufi Muslim cultural landscape. Early in January 2013 Ansar al Dine and its allies pushed out of the de facto Islamic emirate and into southern Mali.
France, which has long viewed Mali in its sphere of influence even after giving up Mali as a colony in 1960, has decided that losing Mali to Islamists is unacceptable and has launched a war to support the semi-civilian, military-propped up government. Right now the war is in its opening stages with the French achieving mixed results. In some places the Islamists' advanced has been stopped while in other sectors they continue to gain ground despite air strikes against forward deployed units.
Le Monde has produced a great overview map showing the range of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) as well as the once powerful Tuareg nationalist National Liberation Movement of Azawad (MNLA). The current conflict zone is also highlighted.
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Finally there is a map going around the Arabic blogosphere showing the end result which many fear will happen if Ansar al Dine and other Islamists are able to take over Mali, which they have stated is their end goal unlike MNLA which just desire for an independent Azawad.
The war is becoming a French-led allied effort as the United States has promised aid and logistical support while Canada is sending one cargo plane for one week.
This is not a war for democracy as Wilsonian principles actually would call for Tuareg self-determination and Mali's military has a proven track record of launching coups against corrupt and/or incapable civilian governments. This is a war to stop the Islamist wave that has been one of the Arab Spring's biggest spin-offs. If Islamists can be stopped and destroyed in northern Mali then counter-terrorism efforts elsewhere can limit groups like AQIM. If Islamists are successful in Mali then the whole region is at risk (as shown in the Arabic-language map above) as the revolutionary Islamist movement will seek to export itself elsewhere from its Afghanistan-in-Africa base.