Earlier this year when Captain Sanogo took over the government of Mali in an accidental coup he said his intention was to get the resources he needed to defeat Touraeg and Islamist forces in the north. In the chaos that followed Malian military forces were driven from the north and the independent state of Azawad was established. No other state recognizes Azawad and the rebel organization that led the fight to establish Azawad, the Mouvement national pour la libération de l'Azawad (MNLA), seems to have lost power to Islamic extremists such as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). AQIM has sought to install its particular brand of Islam in Azawad, imposed Sharia Law, and destroyed ancient temples and shrines that it found offensive.
Despite gaining great power in Mali, Sanogo has not accomplished his original objective of reinforcing and rearming the Malian military to defeat enemy forces in the north. I assume that running a country was a bigger challenge than he wanted so he took a step back to allow the interim President and Prime Ministers to deal with the political mess. It is evident that Sanogo retains great influence as the former Prime Minister was arrested this week by military troops and was replaced with a new Prime Minister. The former Prime Minister had disagreed with Sanogo by advocating for the international community to put foreign troops on the ground to take back Azawad. Sanogo, however has maintained that he wants his own troops to do the fighting and wants international support.
I think that it is noble for Mali to want to take care of its own problems. If part of the United States was taken over by rebels we would want to take care of the problem ourselves, without foreign troops doing the fighting for us. Letting France do the fighting would be like running back to a former colonial master, and would likely oblige Mali to engage in unfavorable trade with France in the future. Other countries that have pledged troops under the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) don't have a great reputation for being neutral in ECOWAS peace keeping operations. It would be easier for Mali to deal with peer countries in ECOWAS than major western powers like the US or France, however the quality of forces from ECOWAS countries are less capable.
The US has already committed troops in Africa to the hunt for the LRA but mainly in a support and advisory role. The US involvement in Libya was controversial at home, especially following the murder of Ambassador Christopher Stevens in Benghazi. With ongoing economic problems in the US, the looming fiscal cliff, and defense cuts the US might not be as willing to engage with boots on the ground in Mali for a campaign that will most likely last several months, if not longer. However, the US can contribute airlift support, intelligence, equipment, fuel, food, training, and funding. Other allies can do the same.
As Malians should coordinate their own efforts to retake the north, they should host a conference with countries willing to contribute and coordinate their potential resources in a clear, open manner. If the Malians are suspected of stealing donor support donations would be limited. Advisers from France, US, and other allies can help the Malian leadership with developing a campaign plan but the operations should be Mali led and fought by Mali troops.
Before the loss of northern Mali, the military was estimated to have 8000 active troops (7,350 Army, 400 Air Force, and 50 Navy). There were an additional 1,800 Gendarmerie, 2000 Republican Guard, and 3000 militia. The military of Mali was trained to the point of contributing troops to international peace keeping operations in the DRC, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the Central African Republic. However, much equipment was lost in the north when government troops fled and there was a falling out between the Republican Guard loyal to the former president and the military so the amount of troops and equipment available for military campaign is reduced. The government can also conscript and train additional adults to serve in the military to augment Malian combat strength (and will take more time).
The MNLA forces that drove government forces from the north were well equipped with heavy weapons from the Libya war. AQIM troops are also well financed from kidnapping ransoms, donations, drug trafficking, theft, and network support. Foreign fighters have also joined MNLA/AQIM troops in northern Mali and terrorist groups have set up training camps in the region.
The fight to take back northern Mali will not be easy or quick, but can be accomplished successfully if Malian troops are well armed, equipped, and motivated. This can be done without foreign combat boots on the ground but would still require great international support and donations with little corruption. It seems that international donors, ECOWAS, and other major powers are willing to contribute to the cause to liberate the north of Mali so funding is available. However, the questions that still linger are who is really in charge of the government? Can donors support a government that gained power through a coup? and What is the political future of Mali?