On 11 January 2013 France initiated military operations against Islamist rebels in Mali in order 'to stop the terrorist aggression ... make Bamako safe ... and enable Mali to recover its territorial integrity'. It hopes that the current ground and air offensive will be limited in duration. But this will depend on several factors, including the effectiveness of its planning and intelligence, and the tactics of the opposition. If Bamako is to reassert its authority over the country's ungoverned north, the capacity of Mali's military will need to be dramatically enhanced.
According to Paris, as of 15 January, French troops deployed in Mali numbered around 800, with around 1,700 taking part from France's military bases in Africa. Press reports on 17 January indicated that this had risen to 1,400; according to French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, troop numbers on the ground will increase to around 2,500. France's ground and air forces being used so far consist of fixed- and rotary-wing aviation, wheeled armour and infantry assembled and deployed from Bamako, as well as special forces.
How did we get here?
The security situation in Mali has steadily worsened in recent years. In the north, Tuareg groups have long agitated for the creation of an independent state of Azawad, and rebel actions in Mali's north spiked after the fall in 2011 of the Gadhafi regime in Libya. Some of the Tuareg tribesmen who rose up against the Malian government in January 2012 had returned from fighting in Libya, and possessed relatively sophisticated weapons. The government's poor handling of this rebellion prompted a military coup in Bamako in March.