PLANNED military intervention to oust al-Qaeda-linked Islamists from Mali could take almost a year to organise, it has emerged.
The United Nations Security Council voted on Thursday night to authorise an African-led force to drive out the militants, who control the north of the west African nation.
However, the UN body made no mention of the scale of the planned intervention or when it was likely to take place.
UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous recently said he did not expect any military operation to begin until next September or October.
The news caused dismay among Malians living in Islamist controlled areas of the country.
“We want rapid military action to liberate our cities,” said Alphadi Cisse, who lives in Timbuktu. “There is no school, there is no work and no money. We are fed up with this situation.” The mayor of Timbuktu, which is controlled by the Islamist group Ansar Dine, has described conditions there as “a living hell.” The militants have imposed strict Islamic law.
They have stoned to death a couple accused of adultery, hacked off the hands of thieves and have recruited children as young as 12 into their ranks. Heavily armed men also have attacked bars that sell alcohol, and banned men and women from socialising in the streets.
The turmoil has decimated the economy of Timbuktu, once a thriving tourist town.
This week’s UN resolution adopted unanimously welcomes troop contributions pledged by the west African regional bloc ECOWAS and calls on member states, including from the neighboring Sahel region, to contribute troops to the mission.
Council diplomats say the best-trained African troops in desert warfare are from Chad, Mauritania and Niger.
The resolution stressed that there must be a two-track plan – political and military – to reunify Mali, which has been in turmoil since a coup d’etat in March. Islamist groups were able to take hold of northern Mali, an area the size of France, after the March coup created a power vacuum.
Coup leaders created fresh turmoil earlier this month when they arrested Mali’s prime minister and forced him to resign – a move that raised new concerns about the ability of the Malian military to help regain control of the north.
The UN resolution also stresses that further military planning is needed before a force could be sent and it asks Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to “confirm in advance the council’s satisfaction with the planned military offensive operation”.
France’s UN ambassador Gerard Araud said that it was premature to say when the military operation would take place because African and Malian troops must be trained and much depends on the political process and Mali’s extreme weather.
Northerners in Mali say the longer the world waits, the more entrenched the militants will become.
Hamadada Toure, a teacher from the city of Gao now living in the south, urged swift action.
“If the resolution is not acted upon to chase the Islamists out of towns, all the comings and goings of diplomats and the mobilisation of the international community are a bluff,” he said.