David Cameron’s intervention in Mali has shades of Libya and Afghanistan
By Peter Hoskin
Follow Peter on Twitter
It didn’t take long for David Cameron to offer British assistance to the French forces in Mali. Only 24 hours after Operation Serval had been initiated, to combat the Islamist militants who are spreading out from the north of the African country, Mr Cameron was on the phone to President Hollande to see what we might do. The outcome was announced last night: two RAF transport planes will be dispatched to provide logistical support.
Admittedly, this is a limited intervention, so far. But it already has parallels with recent operations in Libya and Afghanistan. Libya because this is another swift, targeted response to a situation that — with thousands of people fleeing the north of Mali in the wake of reported atrocities — has definite humanitarian dimensions. Afghanistan because the main emphasis of Mr Cameron’s statement yesterday was on preventing the spread of terrorism. Or, as he put it:
“I am deeply concerned about the recent rebel advances in Mali, which extend the reach of terrorist groups and threaten the stability of the country and the wider region.”
I’m sure this concern is Mr Cameron’s overriding reason for getting involved in the Mali conflict: like all Prime Ministers, he does not take military decisions lightly. But it’s also hard to ignore the possible political ramifications of all this. The PM’s relationship with François Hollande is generally even tetchier than that he had with Nicolas Sarkozy, and yet he may soon require Mr Hollande’s help to secure a new relationship between Britain and the EU, particularly given the recent noises emanating from Berlin. His willingness to assist the French in Mali may have diplomatic benefits.
And as for whether that British assistance will be stepped up, perhaps even to the point where we have a combat role, much could depend on what progress the French make by themselves, and whether the US gets involved too. The White House is currently said to be mulling over a French request for support in the shape of military drones. This could escalate yet.
P.S. My former colleagues at the Spectator’s Coffee House have put together a useful briefing on Mali here.