France’s defense minister has said that the U.N. Security Council will pass a resolution before Christmas that will authorize a multinational African force to “stabilize” Mali. The resolution calls for an intervention force of 3,300 troops lead by ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States). An anonymous source spoke of another plan that involves sending 5,500 troops to help upgrade Mali’s military. The announcement comes a little more than a week after the Ivorian president said that a military intervention was likely in early 2013 and Chad’s president expressed “total confusion” over intervention.

In a separate operation, the E.U. is planning to send hundreds of European troops under French command to Mali to help “rebuild” Mali’s army.

French drones have already been over the skies of the North African country, where Al Qaeda-linked militants have taken hold of the north and the south is under the control of an unstable and ineffective government. 

The fear is that Mali could become a new base for Al Qaeda if militants are not displaced or defeated. The U.S. seems to share these fears. Almost two weeks ago, officials from the State and Defense departments told senators that they were working with ECOWAS and considering offering the force that enters Mali equipment, training, and advisers.

Quite what a successful intervention in Mali looks like is unclear. It is unrealistic to think that African troops, even with French and American support, will be able to effectively dislodge Al Qaeda-linked militants from a politically unstable country that is slightly larger than Italy, France, and the U.K. combined. Even were the militants defeated, they could move to one of Mali’s neighbors. In addition, what influence foreign troops would have in an already politically unstable country is not obvious or predictable. 

What is too often forgotten in many of the discussion regarding Mali is that it was foreign intervention in Libya that contributed to northern Mali falling into the hands of Tuareg fighters, who were then displaced by Al Qaeda-linked militants. No one has yet been able to give a convincing argument for why an intervention in Mali will be any less predictable.