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Terrorism & Security

Mali Islamists threaten to retaliate 'at the heart of France' (+video)

France committed its forces to a military intervention in Mali to stop the Islamists' advance toward Bamako. Today, they threatened payback.

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Europe Editor

Arthur Bright is the Europe Editor at The Christian Science Monitor.  He has worked for the Monitor in various capacities since 2004, including as the Online News Editor and a regular contributor to the Monitor's Terrorism & Security blog.  He is also a licensed Massachusetts attorney.

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But the French campaign may prove to be more involved than planned. The Monitor reported yesterday that while the bombing campaign has so far proven effective in driving the Islamists back, "few believe that airpower alone will be enough to uproot what many analysts consider to be a well-armed and battle-hardened adversary."

In fact, a presidential official quoted by the Agence France Presse said that French armed forces were surprised by the military capacity of the Islamist militants. 

"At the start, we thought they would be just a load of guys with guns driving about in their pick-ups, but the reality is that they are well-trained, well-equipped, and well-armed,” the official told AFP. "From Libya they have got hold of a lot of up-to-date sophisticated equipment which is much more robust and effective than we could have imagined," he continued, alluding to weapons that were smuggled into Mali after the fall of Muammar Qaddafi.

In an analysis for BBC News, Mark Doyle said "It is not going to be over in a matter of weeks."

"The French military participation may be limited, but whatever happens this is going to take a very, very long time. We're talking about an area the size of Spain," Mr. Doyle said. "The Islamists will no doubt be scared of these aerial bombardments, but that doesn't change the situation on the ground really until there is political stability in Mali and the Malian army can ultimately regain control of its own country, and the Malian army is, not to be too impolite about it, not very well organized at all."

Doyle also noted that the Islamist forces number in the thousands, and are spread across the whole of the Malian north, which is part of the Sahara desert.

France is receiving non-military support for its Malian campaign from both Britain and the United States. Although British Prime Minister David Cameron emphasized that there would be no British troops deployed on the ground in Mali, he did commit a pair of huge cargo planes to aid the French efforts, reports the BBC.  And Bloomberg Businessweek reports that the US has offered France intelligence, logistical support, and in-flight refueling capabilities.

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