Peter Dörrie details the worsening situation in Mali:
The rebellion has its roots in the Tuareg insurrections of the 1990s and 2000s. These earlier conflicts, the latest of which ended only in 2009, were resolved by peace agreements between the various Tuareg factions and the Malian government. Typically, the rebels were promised greater autonomy, inclusion in the national army, political participation and economic development.
However, the government never implemented the agreements, leaving many veteran Tuareg fighters — and increasingly a generation of politicized Tuareg youth — angry and disillusioned.
In this context, the Libyan civil war and the chaotic fall of Moammar Gadhafi acted as a trigger, greatly contributing to the escalation of the conflict. After Libya’s rebels captured Tripoli, scores of Tuareg who had either served for years in the Libyan army or had been hired recently as mercenaries returned to their home countries — for many, Mali — bringing with them an extensive arsenal of weaponry and vehicles.
The rebellion has displaced approximately 160,000 people, and it is is compounding the humanitarian problems in Mali related to the risk of famine. Dörrie explains later in the column that famine has historically intensified Tuareg opposition to the Malian government, which will make a political settlement more difficult. There are potentially larger security implications related to the role of Al Qaeda in the Maghreb:
The combination of famine and conflict would also increase the likelihood that more-radical groups such as al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) could profit from the situation. AQIM and the MNLA already cooperate for opportunistic reasons, for example by coordinating some recent attacks. Another worrying trend is the Malian government’s increasing organization of local militias to fight the rebels.
As Americans consider the effects of the Libyan war on Libya’s neighbors, perhaps we will be more cautious before assuming that the best solution to another country’s internal conflict is to take sides and topple regimes.