France continued its attack on Islamist rebels in northern Mali today as the nation suddenly finds itself taking the lead in the war against al Qaeda terrorists in Africa. War planes bombed training camps in rebel-held areas and the French military claimed they stopped the advance of rebel fighters moving toward the capital of Bamako over the weekend. A local counselor in the town of Gao, which was overrun by Islamists last year, said "the population of Gao will sleep soundly, and will even snore" after French forces wiped out the insurgent positions there.
However, the rebels countered by launching a new offensive elsewhere, taking over the small town of Diabaly and threatening to move their war to France itself. A leader of the MUJWA Islamist group said "France has opened the gates of hell for all the French" and has "fallen into a trap." Some 30,000 French citizens live in northern and central African nations surrounding Mali, while France itself has the largest Muslim population in Europe. French officials have tightened security out of fear of reprisals, but even without violence at home, this new conflict likely will not help ease brewing tensions between Muslims and their governments across Europe.
President Francois Hollande has taken quite a gamble inserting his nation into the conflict, but it has inspired other nations to finally take action in Northern Africa. Both Great Britain and the United States are offering logistical assistance, if not troops, and the push is now on to secure a new Security Council resolution at the United Nations. (Unlike Syria or Iran, China and Russia are unlikely to stand in the way of this one.) However, should the rebels make good on their threat to strike back with a terrorist attack in France, public opinion on the invasion could quickly be reversed.