France: Mali’s Islamists ‘Surprisingly Strong’

Well-Trained, Well-Armed Rebels Awash in Libyan Arms

Virtually the whole northern half of Africa is awash in weapons looted in the wake of the NATO war for regime change in Libya, and all those weapons are making the French invasion of Mali a lot less convenient than they’d figured.

“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,” noted one French official. “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.”

They perhaps should have imagined this, as the Tuareg secessionists that initially took northern Mali did so with weapons from Libya, quickly overwhelming the Malian military. The Islamist factions then quickly defeated the Tuaregs. This makes it difficult to imagine why France would assume the group would be any worse armed than the Tuaregs were.

At any rate, France has sent only a few hundred ground troops, and is planning to rely on troops from Senegal and Niger for most ground fighting, while launching air strikes against the northern cities in the open-ended war. This means France will likely be able to pound the region at its leisure, barring significant anti-aircraft weapons having found their way into northern Mali, but any efforts to actually occupy it will be very much more difficult.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.