A lot of things...for one, local Tuareg and Fulani groups want to have their own nation in the Sahara, separate from Mali and Niger. Niger itself has had an on-again/off-again Tuareg rebellion for the better part of a century.
Setting up shop with the hard-line Islamists seems like an effective way for them to accomplish this goal. They get experienced fighters, money, and organization, in exchange for a shot at their own country. In exchange, they're willing to let the Islamists use the region for their own international training camps.
These forces have carved out an effectively independent zone throughout the Sahara, mostly north of the Sahel zone, including the ancient city of Tomboktou (Timbuktu) -- a zone that is effectively free of the Mali government's control. Mali is part of the CIFA economic zone, which has very strong ties to France, so they've called in France's help. Meanwhile, Algeria is also making some incursions because Algeria does not want a repeat of the problems they had in the 1990's.
The USA is tentatively backing France...how far it goes from there is anyone's guess.
In some ways, it's not that dissimilar to the rise of the Taliban. The post-Soviet Mujahdeen were in disarray, the Taliban came in from Pakistan with a lot of military and financial help from non-Afghani muslims. In exchange, they let these types stay and use Afghanistan as their bases of operation.
Years of personal experience in north and west Africa.
· 7 years ago