Having started what was supposed to be an autumn war only a week ago, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has urged African forces to quickly finish their deployments to Mali and “take the lead,” even as his government’s defense ministry talks up an open-ended French role in the war.
African troops are flocking to southern Mali as contributing nations, but the belief that they will be “taking the lead” any time soon misunderstands how African deployments work and what is being deployed.
Impoverished nations are eager to contribute troops to foreign-backed wars get out of having to pay for them, and usually send their least trained troops with a bare minimum of equipment to be trained and geared up by Western backers. Some nations, like Burundi, have made such wars a significant part of their economy.
The biggest contribution is from Nigeria, whose 1,200 troops have showed up totally unprepared for war, with officials saying they probably won’t even try to put them into direct combat because they’re so unready. Nigeria’s contribution as a nation fighting (albeit not so successfully) Boko Haram was supposed to be enormous.
The reality is that the African “contributions” to the Mali invasion are going to be the most marginal and unready troops that the nations can spare, with an eye towards soaking up months if not years of free training for them. France and whatever other Western nations it can talk into joining the war will likely be on the hook for the heavy lifting of the war for years, and the AU troops, such as they are, will be more of a burden than a support for quite some time.
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