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We Want to Give Terrorism a “Knockout” Blow-French Official - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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French soldiers take up positions near Independence Plaza, formerly Sharia Square, during fighting with Islamists in Gao. (REUTERS/Joe Penney)

French soldiers take up positions near Independence Plaza, formerly Sharia Square, during fighting with Islamists in Gao. (REUTERS/Joe Penney)

Paris/London, Asharq Al-Awsat-A high-level French official, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, revealed that France’s major objective in Mali is to “strike a knockout blow against the terrorists” present on Malian territory, adding this will allow the Malian government to restore its prestige and regain control of the country. As for the next stage, the source called for the “launch of the political track” in order to stabilize the situation in the country.

Commenting on the developments and objectives on the ground in Mali, the French official asserted that the current mission is to drive out the groups that Paris has designated as terrorist organizations. These groups are in control of a number of towns in northern Mali. The source said that this mission is on-going at the present time, adding that the mission’s first objective had already been fulfilled, namely to check the terrorist groups’ advance southwards and prevent them from capturing the capital Bamako.

Paris considers itself “not alone” in this conflict, pointing to Germany sending military planes to transport international and African troops, as well as Russia offering to provide help in this regard. This is particularly significant as France opposed the idea of sending troops to Libya during the Libyan revolution, whilst Russia continues to oppose any military intervention in Syria.

The senior French official also denounced the position taken by France’s opposition which has focused upon criticizing French President Francois Hollande’s decision to unilaterally send troops to Mali rather than seek to establish a European-international coalition. He told Asharq Al-Awsat that in the end, after a short period of hesitation and only verbal and political support for France’s mission, a number of European countries have committed- during the meeting of EU foreign ministers-to provide material and logistical support for the French forces, as well as the international African troops.

Paris is of the view that all of those who advised against military intervention in Mali were afraid of this conflict being portrayed as racial, namely as “the white man fighting against the black man”. However these expectations did not come true, and many of those who previously opposed French military intervention are now amongst its most vocal supporters, praising President Hollande’s courageous decision in this regard.

The high-level French official also informed Asharq Al-Awsat that Algeria is set to play a crucial role in this crisis, saying that he expects the Algerian’s involvement in this conflict to increase, particularly as it is the main regional power involved in this.

The source also opined that the recent Algerian hostage crisis “will push Algeria to increase its efforts to combat terrorism.” In this regard, British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to send spy planes, unmanned drones and Special Forces to Mali to contribute to the war effort.

Speaking before parliament, the British PM said that the UK must “act with an iron resolve” to tackle the ‘generational struggle” against the “scourge of terrorism” following the Algerian attack. He said “we will contribute British intelligence and counter-terrorism assets to an international effort to find and dismantle the network that planned and ordered the brutal assault.” He also acknowledged that northern Africa’s Sahel region has become a “magnet for jihadists who pose a threat to Britain.” Malian forces regained control of the strategically important town of Douentza on Monday.

Douentza had been on the outer edge of Islamist rebel territory until the militants expanded southwards earlier this month. The announcement that Douentza was under government control came on the same day that French and Malian forces were patrolling the streets of Diabaly after nearly a week of Islamist rule.

France announced that approximately 1,000 African troops have been deployed to Mali to take part in the military intervention. French military spokesman Colonel Thierry Burkhard said that the soldiers come from Nigeria, Togo, Benin, Niger, and Chad.

For its part, France has deployed 2,150 soldiers in Mali and this could exceed 2,500 at full deployment.