French and Malian forces have managed to expel Islamic militants from many of the urban areas they captured since the beginning of the conflict in northern Mali. The retreat of Islamic militants is, as I noted last week, a sign that the conflict is probably about to change and not a sign that it is coming to an end. Although many Islamist fighters have been dislodged from their strongholds some of the Malian soldiers that are supported by the French military are reportedly conducting or encouraging atrocities.
There have been reports of Malian soldiers targeting Arabs and Tuaregs in reprisal attacks, sometimes recruiting locals to commit abuses that include summary executions, lootings, and lynchings.
The International Criminal Court has opened an investigation into alleged crimes in Mali since January 2012, a move that was welcomed by the Untied Nations’ anti-genocide envoy.
The abuse at the hands of Malian soldiers is the latest illustration of how more delicate the situation in Mali will likely become. Islamic militants could soon begin a guerrilla war against French and Malian soldiers while some Malian soldiers engage in the sort of atrocities the French-led intervention was supposed to stop.
The French, who have pledged to stay in Mali until sovereignty is restored, are working with a military that is either incapable or unwilling to stop its soldiers from committing atrocities while Islamic militants regroup.
The French-led intervention has succeeded in removing Islamic militants from many captured areas. However, while the military aspect of the intervention has so far been a success the humanitarian situation leaves much to be desired.
There are more troops set to enter Mali. Some troops from ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) are already in Mali, and many more are scheduled to arrive soon. It is too early to tell if thousands of new troops in Mali will have any impact on the alleged abuses being conducted by some soldiers in the Malian army or if they will be capable of repelling Islamic militants if they regroup and begin using guerrilla tactics.
The French might soon be regretting their commitment to staying in Mali until there is political stability. What might have seemed initially to be a quick military operation could turn into a long commitment in partnership with a military that has done little to demonstrate discipline.