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Mali offensive to retake north will take time

Islamic militants have taken de facto control over parts of northern Mali, and concerted action by West African nations will not happen immediately.

Mali unrest 10 23 2012Enlarge
Several thousand people march on Oct. 11, 2012 in Mali's capital Bamako to call for armed intervention to help wrest back the vast north from armed Islamist groups. (Habibou Kouyate/AFP/Getty Images)

More Al Qaeda-linked militants deployed in northern Mali on Tuesday, though according to a Western official, a military offensive to reclaim the territory would likely not be waged until next year.

US-funded Voice of America wrote:

"According to witnesses, the fighters began deploying last week, after the UN Security Council passed a resolution asking West African bloc ECOWAS to submit its plans for a Mali force." ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, consists of 15 African countries.

On Wednesday, African officials will meet in Ethiopia to discuss plans for an offensive by Mali's forces "supported by troops from neighboring nations and other African Union states — but not Western countries," the Associated Press wrote.

Diplomats told the AP that it could take months to obtain approval of a United Nations Security Council resolution that would authorize support for the African-led mission from the international community.

"That will all, around the turn of the year, start developing a very clear twin track approach — on both the political and the possible military side," Stephen O'Brien,  Britain's special representative to Sahel, told the Associated Press.

More from GlobalPost: In Mali, Al Qaeda now controls an area the size of France

Meanwhile, France, which has pressed for a faster international response, will fly surveillance drones over Mali, the AP reported.

It's feared northern Mali — where territory the size of France is controlled by Al Qaeda, GlobalPost reported — will become a terrorist breeding ground.

"This is actually a major threat — to French interests in the region, and to France itself," Francois Heisbourg, an expert at the Foundation for Strategic Research, told the Telegraph.

He added, "This is like Afghanistan 1996. This is like when Bin Laden found a place that was larger than France in which he could organize training camps, in which he could provide stable preparations for organizing far-flung terror attacks."

O'Brien agreed there are serious security risks.

"Al-Qaida in the Maghreb, which has activities in the area, is growing in both capability and ambition, and if we don't act there is a very real threat of further attacks in Africa, and eventually Europe, the Middle East and beyond," he said.

In March a military coup unsettled the already unsteady nation. Since then Islamist groups like Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb have taken control over parts of the country.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/121023/mali-offensive-retake-north-will-take-time