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Mali “not over by any means” says US analyst

Alasdair Sandford, euronews:

Joining us from Washington is Professor Chester Crocker of Georgetown University.

He served as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the 1980s and is an expert on international security and conflict management.

Now the French Defence Minister says the Islamists are in disarray and he talks of a “turning point” in the French intervention. Does that mean the hard part is done?

Chester Crocker, Georgetown University:

Well the sharp part is done is the way I would put it, Alasdair. I don’t think it’s over by any means. There’s going to be several additional phases. There’s going to be a need to find a way to track down these guys who have kind of vanished into the dunes. But they’re still there. So the question will be: do they drive north, do they drive east, where do they go and who’s going to track them down?

Alasdair Sandford, euronews:

Now the French forces say they want to hand over to an African force as soon as possible. What can the African forces do, other than just defend individual towns, given the vastness of the region?

Chester Crocker, Georgetown University:

Clearly the French are a world class force up there (in Mali) and they have all those assets and attributes that are integral to their units. As they pull back, they’re going to need to provide some sort of continuing support, particularly on mobility and logistics.

It’s a very difficult area to operate in. You need a lot of water, a lot of food. You need to know where you are. You need to know a lot of positioning advice to know that you’re not walking into an ambush all the time. If the African forces just sit in encampments in towns, that means that the countryside will be in the hands of the enemy, so to speak.

Alasdair Sandford, euronews:

On the military front, there have been warnings of another Afghanistan with forces bogged down in a long drawn-out conflict. Is that a valid comparison?

Chester Crocker, Georgetown University:

No I don’t think it is. What is going to be long and drawn out is the need to restitch and rebuild the political fabric and the social contract of the Malian people so that the Tuaregs in the north feel that they are part of Mali and not marginalised in the political system.

But I think it’s going to be crucial that the French, as well as American and British and neighbouring African countries, are in close coordination with the Algerians. The Algerians are essential to this story.

Of course a lot of the people we are talking about in the Islamist units are Algerians, they’re not Tuaregs from Mali or Tuaregs from Libya, they’re Algerians.

Alasdair Sandford, euronews:

As well as the politics, of course many people in the Sahara region are desperately poor. Is this a good time to consider economic development as well as politics and security?

Chester Crocker, Georgetown University:

Well of course it is and right now the people who live in these Saharan “badlands”, as they are called over here, live primarily on smuggling, on narcotics trafficking, on taking hostages and trading livestock and a few other things.

But most of the economy of the area is what might be called, and I don’t mean to insult anyone, a “bandit economy”. What needs to happen is more of a legitimate economy in that area. So there does need to be development discussed on the agenda as well.

Alasdair Sandford, euronews:

Professor Chester Crocker from Washington, thanks very much for joining us on euronews.

Chester Crocker, Georgetown University:

Good to be with you.

Copyright © 2014 euronews

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