by our African Affairs correspondent

THOUSANDS of French troops are pouring into Mali to spearhead a new offensive against the Touareg rebels who control the north of country. Britain, America, Canada, Belgium, Germany, and Denmark have all pledged support for the French war and British and US transport planes are now ferrying French troops and supplies across the Mediterranean to the West African country.

Muslim Brotherhoods have held anti-French demonstrations in Egypt and Algeria; the Malian government has extended the state of emergency for another three months and Japan has closed its embassy in the capital and has urged all its citizens to leave because of the deteriorating security situation in the wartorn country.

The French claim their intervention has been fully endorsed by United Nations and the African Union. But the UN head has ruled out direct UN intervention and, so far, only token African forces have joined the French operation aimed at driving the rebels, whom the imperialists claim are all Al Qaeda supporters, out of the country.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon ruled out any direct UN involvement in this new French war this week. “Directly assisting offensive military actions would also place our civilian personnel in the region in jeopardy. I take this issue very seriously,” Ban told the General Assembly on Tuesday.

And Russia’s special envoy for Africa, Mikhail Margelov, says that France’s military deployment does not correspond to what was previously agreed at the UN Security Council. While not challenging the legitimacy of the French move, the Russian government has ruled out any military support for it stressing that the Malians must be given unconditional support for fighting extremists under the aegis of the UN and the African Union.

French and Malian troops, backed by war planes and helicopter gunships, drove the rebels out of the towns of Diabaly and Douentza in central Mali this week and the rebel held towns of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal in the north have been repeatedly bombed.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Canada and Germany had offered vital aid for the attack on the towns. But that’s only the beginning. Le Drian says that “the goal is the total re-conquest of Mali” and many more imperialist troops are on their way to beef up the Malian military in their struggle to regain control of their northern territories.

in action

Over 3,000 French troops are now in action in Mali, backed by around a 1,000 African troops from Nigeria, Togo, Benin, Niger and Chad. The French are hoping the African contingent will quickly rise to 6,000 to mask their presence in their former colony and give added international legitimacy to the offensive against the Touareg rebels.

In the Arab world Muslim brotherhoods are calling on their followers to support the Touareg Islamists who control two of the rebel militias that run northern Mali. In Algiers police blocked demonstrators from nearing the French embassy in a protest against the Nato intervention and their own government’s decision to allow French warplanes to cross Algeria to bomb Malian rebel positions.

In Cairo Muslim Brothers demonstrated outside the French embassy and called on their own Muslim Brotherhood- led government to break off relations with France.

While that’s not going to happen Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has become the first Arab and African leader to openly oppose the French operation. Speaking at the Arab summit on economic and social development in Saudi Arabia this week the Egyptian leader voiced his opposition to French intervention adding that “the situation must be dealt with wisely.”

“We are against the intervention in Mali because it will spread the conflict,” he said. More French reinforcements are on their way. And in France public concern is growing at the prospect of a protracted Afghan-style war in West Africa. When the social-democratic French president Francois Hollande launched “Operation Serval” on 11th January the proclaimed objective was to prop up the Malian government and defeat Islamic terrorist groups, which French imperialism claims are the dominant factor within the Touareg independence movement.

Now some doubt whether France can do it on its own and others believe that the real motive is simply French imperialism’s desire to get its greedy hands on Mali’s abandoned natural resources that include gold, uranium, gas, oil and diamonds.

“I have the impression that we have committed ourselves to reconquering the totality of an immense country. France will not be able to accomplish this task alone,” said former Gaullist leader Alain Juppé, while Left Party leader Jean- Luc Mélenchon condemned Hollande for ordering the operation without consulting parliament or his government earlier.

“There are many dark points in this matter”, Mélenchon said while a prominent member of the Greens said the operation was simply a neo-colonial manoeuvre.

And despite a French news ban, atrocity stories are coming in, including claims that Touaregs, Arabs and Fulanis are being persecuted in government- controlled areas because their tribal leaders have largely supported the revolt, as well as reports of arrests, interrogations and the torture of civilians by French and Malian soldiers in the towns the French took this week.