With news that the French are getting themselves involved on the side of the Mali government against a rebel uprising, I have to admit to a large gap in my knowledge of current world affairs.
I know that Mali is a landlocked state in West Africa, parts of which are in the Sahara desert, but that is about the extent of it. With the French military involvement, and now the agreement to send in United Nations peace-keeping troops I thought that it was time that I understood a little more.
But it is a very complex picture.
The internal conflict began over a year ago in January 2012 when rebels took over the presidential palace, dissolved the government and suspended the constitution. In April 2012 the Islamist rebel group (the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) declared succession of a new state, Azawad, free from Mali. Shortly after this they were sidelined and power was assumed by a group aligned with Al-Qaeda who allowed the head of state to re-assume power, but as a puppet under the influence of the extremists.
In January 2013 the French military began Operation Serval to intervene in the conflict and look to oversee free and fair elections.
But the picture is far more complicated and this complexity can probably be best summarised with a map, courtesy of ‘France 24′.
The map above reveals the scale of the task that France has ahead of it, while it waits several weeks for the multi-national peace-keeping force to join them. There are multiple factions and players, some of whom are friendly to the French, that go to make a confusing picture.
Airstrikes have been geographically distributed, an indication of how diffuse the rebels are and some reports suggest the Islamists have several stockpiles of munitions and supplies around the country in preparation for an extended engagement.
This could well be a regular item on our news screens for weeks to come.