Tuareg gains in their rebellion to break away from Mali are likely going to be permanent:

It took just a few months of combat for Tuareg rebels in Mali, battle-hardened by their time fighting for Libya’s late leader Moammar Kadafi, to achieve a century-old dream: conquering a huge swath of northern Mali that they see as their homeland.

Even if the rebels never win international recognition, their battlefield successes have in effect partitioned the West African nation [bold mine-DL]. Neither the country’s new military junta nor leaders of neighboring nations appear capable of overturning the recent gains by the rebels, analysts say.

Whenever a reasonably stable state is broken up and a new non-viable state is carved out of it, that is going to have harmful effects on the wider region, and the region around Mali is particularly vulnerable to the effects of this separatist rebellion. As this NPR report today notes, the success of the Tuareg rebellion in Mali could trigger similar uprisings elsewhere in the region:

The disintegration of Mali could further destabilize a fragile region that is already simmering with political unrest, crime and religious fundamentalism.

It also raises the prospect that the Tuareg rebellion in Mali could spark similar uprisings in other countries that have big concentrations of Tuaregs, including Niger, Algeria and Libya.

The report also cites an expert on the Tuaregs on the situation:

Jeremy Keenan says the stakes are high, not only for the countries in the region, but for the United States and European countries.

The U.S. State Department calls Mali “a leading regional partner in U.S. efforts against terrorism,” and the U.S. has donated equipment to the Malian army under a program called the Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership.

But Keenan charges that the terrorism threat was hyped by U.S. officials who wanted an excuse to build a presence in Africa.

He calls U.S. policy in the region “staggeringly uninformed,” and says any U.S. intervention in Mali now would provoke a backlash.

The L.A. Times story also cites Keenan on the consequences of an ECOWAS intervention to help Mali suppress the rebellion:

If Mali’s neighbors do send troops into the north, one of the harshest environments on Earth, it could spark more chaos in the region, Keenan said. Tuaregs also reside in Niger, Algeria and Libya.

“It could spread into a regional conflagration,” he said. “The Tuaregs would see it as a race war. You might get Tuaregs from other countries coming across to join the fight.”

A West African force “would probably get humiliated against the Tuaregs, who are very hardened and seasoned fighters…. They’re happy to die for it,” Keenan said, referring to Azawad independence.

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