Foreign military intervention in Africa looked impossible - until last week. French launched airstrikes in Mali. Then European and American oil workers got kidnapped in Algeria.
In Mali, French forces are today fighting their way north up the Niger River to face insurgents. In Algeria, the Army is trying to free hostages at a remote gas plant, using helicopters, and with apparent collateral damage.
Increasingly, such battles are emerging as parts of what sometimes seems a single war against North Africa’s Islamist militants.
For Islamist militant groups across the Sahara and Sahel regions, national borders mean little. Yesterday gunmen seized an Algerian gas field in retaliation for France’s intervention against fellow Islamist militants in Mali.
As violence surges, Islamists are promising a regional fight. It remains a question whether governments and their Western allies will prove up to the challenge.
“There’s not a community of purpose,” says Jon Marks, an expert on North Africa and chairman of Cross-Border Information, a British risk analysis firm. “People have been traumatized by Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia. There’s no appetite to intervene.”