The EU and the UN struggled to find a solution to the crisis in Mali. France coordinated the response and the EEAS developed a regional strategy.
Fighters retreating from Libya after the 2011 civil war have helped destabilise the already-weak countries of the Sahel (Mali, Mauritania, and Niger). The situation in Mali deteriorated in early 2012, as Islamist rebels seized the north of the country and military officers mounted a coup in the south, initiating a year of deep political confusion. France was particularly concerned about the situation in the Sahel, in part because Islamist groups have taken French citizens hostage. Other EU member states and the US were also concerned that northern Mali could become a terrorist haven, and there are links between Islamists in the Sahel and insurgent groups elsewhere in West Africa, including Nigeria. France took the lead both at the UN and in the EU. Paris has negotiated with West African states to plan an African-led and UN-backed intervention in Mali – ultimately aimed at regaining the north – for 2013. This process was prolonged by differences over the scale of the force involved, and US scepticism towards the plan.
The EEAS also made the Sahel a priority in 2012 and developed a comprehensive strategy for the region. In July, the European Council authorised a CSDP mission to assist the authorities in Niger fight terrorism and strengthen the rule of law. This mission, which may evolve to operate in other states in the region, arguably took too long to get going given the urgency of the situation. In November, the European Council gave initial approval for a further mission to help strengthen Malian forces in parallel to the proposed African intervention. French officials were relieved that Germany, which increasingly questions the role of CSDP missions in Africa, supported this proposal in light of the potential terrorist threat. Overall, however, the international response to the crisis in Mali was too slow. In January 2013, an Islamist advance towards the capital, Bamako, caused France to intervene militarily and speed up the proposed African intervention.
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