The difficulty is that the Algerian military, which runs the government, has few incentives to help with the campaign against AQIM, which uses northern Mali as a base of operations.
“Some people are using the Afghanistan analogy for Mali. If that’s the case, then you can think of Algeria as Pakistan,” says J. Peter Pham, director of the Michael S. Anfari Africa Center at the Atlantic Council. “Algeria is necessary as part of any solution to what’s going on in Mali, but that shouldn’t blind us to the fact that what’s going in northern Mali, Algeria is allowing to occur.”
Many AQIM leaders are veteran fighters from Algeria’s civil war who have moved south into northern Mali. “And in many cases, the Algerian government was happy for them to move on,” Mr. Pham says. What’s more, the logistical supply chain of these extremists “would be pretty nonexistent without Algeria,” he adds.
All this has made it tough for Mali's military to defeat the insurgents. The US military has provided training to Malian forces – prior to a March 2012 military coup there that made it illegal under US policy to do so – but none of this training included counterinsurgency instruction.
The reason for that omission was largely political. “Where US policymakers in general may have dropped the ball is that during the period the US military was training Malian forces, we were so desperate for an African success story of any kind that certain parts of the [US government] willfully or subconsciously ignored mounting evidence that all was not well” with Mali's government, Pham says.
This evidence included growing corruption under the democratically elected president and indications that he was engaged in drug smuggling.