Al Jazeera is reporting that French troops are engaged in what French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has described as “very violent fighting” in northern Mali. Having pushed Islamic militants out of the territory they captured before the intervention French forces are now fighting in the mountains of northeastern Mali, where Chadian soldiers suffered casualties last week.
The news of violent fighting comes amid news that a suicide bomber, who is believed to have targeting Tuaregs in the town of Kidal, killed seven people.
It is not surprising that the fighting in Mali is becoming increasingly brutal, nor is it surprising that Islamic militants are adopting guerilla tactics and adapting to some of the technology being used in the conflict. Last month I wrote about reports from the Associated Press and Stratfor, a global intelligence company, which pointed out that Islamic militants have been preparing for a fight in the mountains and that Islamic militants would be changing the way they fight allies of the Malian government.
The increased violence makes a French withdrawal more difficult. Le Drian has said that despite the cost of the intervention it is too soon for a hasty withdrawal. The French chief of the defense staff and the French foreign minister have both said that a withdrawal could begin next month.
France could withdraw from Mali next month, but it is hard to see if Malian officials will be in a position to safely secure their own country by then, even with the assistance of other African troops. It would not look good for the French to leave Mali only for militants to return and reassert influence, which is a possibility were the French to leave too soon.
The future of the French intervention and the humanitarian situation in Mali will depend on how quickly and efficiently Islamic militants can be dislodged from their current positions, including the mountains near the Algerian border. If recent violence is any indication the French will almost certainly have to be prepared to stay a little longer than expected before political stability can be ensured.