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As French forces hit rebels in Mali, Paris wants to avoid Europe's Afghanistan (+video)

The poor showing by Mali's Army against Islamist radicals in the key city of Konna this week has France worried enough to send troops.

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Some 6,000 French live in Mali, and seven are now held captive by the rebels.

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Warnings have been swirling

Warnings of a rebel attack on central Mali have been swirling for days. But despite local and regional media outlets reporting large convoys of Islamist fighters
heading south, many residents in Sévaré dismissed the reports as rumor.

“We felt safe because we hear these stories a lot but it is always nothing,” said Oumaru Guindo, a resident of Sévaré. “The Army told us they had killed the
terrorists in Konna and liberated Douentza,” he continued, “but when we saw many Malian soldiers returning and heard that many people were wounded, it was
clear what really happened and we knew they [the rebels] had taken Konna.”

What was clear to Mr. Guindo on Thursday afternoon was confirmed by several media outlets hours later, even as the Malian Army insisted that they had repelled the rebel advance.

Guindo has since left Sévaré with his wife and small child, telling the Monitor that “everyone is panicking.”

Few outside of Mali believe that the Malian military is capable of retaking the north on its own, but the army’s most recent performance has raised new
concerns about the ability of Mali’s military to hold on to the areas it does control.

According to Andrew Lebovich, a Senegal-based research who closely monitors events in neighboring Mali, "France is acutely concerned
about the situation in Mali. These new developments are particularly alarming, as they further demonstrate the state of the Malian military and the
deterioration of the security situation even in parts of the country under government control."

How best to tackle the crisis in Mali has been a matter of intense international debate ever since an alliance of separatist rebels and armed Islamist groups drove the Malian military from the country’s north in the wake of a military coup that toppled Mali’s democratically elected government last year.

In light of Thursday’s events, Mali's interim president, Dioncounda Traoré, sent a request for more immediate assistance to Hollande and UN
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. France also convened an emergency session of the UN Security Council.

The UN has already approved the deployment of an African force to Mali in December, but troops are not expected to arrive until next September, and serious questions remain over who will oversee and pay for the mission.

The fall of Konna, however, has given greater weight to those calling for swift action. The European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, for example, is among the first to have found a renewed sense of urgency, releasing a statement calling for "enhanced and accelerated international engagement" in order to
“support the rapid deployment of the African-led international support mission to Mali."


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