The poor showing by Mali's Army against Islamist radicals in the key city of Konna this week has France worried enough to send troops.
The fighting takes place amid concerns that Al Qaeda-linked militants are poised to push south to the strategic, government-controlled cities of Sévaré and Mopti, where many residents have reportedly started to panic.
Analysts say the loss of Sévaré, which hosts a key military base and nearby airport, would make it even more difficult to retake northern Mali – a vast desert expanse where organized criminal networks have linked-up with jihadist groups, netting tens of millions of dollars through kidnapping and control of the lucrative cocaine trade, and often brandishing weapons smuggled from Libya after the fall of Mumar Gaddafi.
For weeks, Paris urged multilateral action through regional African groupings, the government of Algeria, and the UN – hoping to prevent the Sahel region from turning into what some French worry would be an Afghanistan for Europe.
Yet the poor showing by the Army at Konna this week, where Malian troops had been preparing to fight for months, apparently seized French attention, and today French president François Hollande swung into action, launching airstrikes and deploying troops for “as long as necessary” the head of state said, citing UN Security Council resolutions.