French officials continue to send extremely mixed messages regarding their intentions for Mali, on the one hand insisting the war is essentially one and on the other hand setting the victory conditions so impossibly high as to ensure an open-ended occupation.
French President Francois Hollande did both within the matter of a few sentences today, declaring “the essential part of Malian territory is today liberated” then going on to declare that France would continue until every single terrorist in the entire nation was eliminated.
France’s view on Mali is bizarrely south-centric. Troops have basically gone no farther north than Kidal, and while that indeed encompasses the bulk of the nation’s population, it leaves several hundred miles of territory northward, most of it desert with little infrastructure, for the rebels to retreat into.
Hollande promised to continue to focus attention against the rebels in the extreme north of Mali, but the sheer amount of “no man’s land” and the number of high desert caves to hide in makes the idea that they are going to completely wipe out rebels in the region, let alone is short order, absurd.