Continued from page 1

The political parties also noticed that the government was not preparing for the elections. Mr. Toure was in control of the process and wanted his ally Modibo Sidibe, the former prime minister, to succeed him. It was important to have fair and transparent elections, Capt. Sanogo said.

The Tuareg tribes had long complained of being marginalized, which resulted in several rebellions over the years. Malian leaders, however, thought they were represented fairly in the parliament.

Tuareg leaders with whom I met said they needed hope for better lives, food on the table, jobs, education for their children and health care services. It was also important that the 500,000 Tuaregs living in neighboring refugee camps — one-third of the northern population — be brought home to participate in elections scheduled for July, they said.

The interim government, which took over after the coup, needs to start discussions with the Tuareg separatists who are not aligned with the more fundamentalist Ansar Dine Islamists, who want to rule northern Mali under Shariah law. The real fight is with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and al Qaeda-linked Islamists wanting an Islamic state.

The French military stopped the Islamists’ advance and liberated Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu. The victory may be short-term because the vast desert can provide the Islamist a safe haven. History has proved that the insurgents are patient and resourceful, surviving harsh conditions and striking at targets of weakness.

To defeat the Islamist insurgency, African military forces need to be trained, equipped and prepared to stay for an indefinite period in northern Mali. The Western coalition needs to leave as soon as possible so as not to be perceived as occupiers and reduce the risk of jihadist retaliation attacks.

In a recent Atlantic Council panel discussion on managing the crisis in Mali and the Sahel, an African specialist asked “why the U.S. should be involved in Mali.”

The panel members noted that Islamists planned to make Mali the jihadist epicenter in the Sahel — the vast, semi-arid belt of North Africa that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea.

This is why the U.S. needs to support Mali to become a stable democracy. It is in the interest of national security.

John Price is a former U.S. ambassador to Comoros, Mauritius and the Seychelles islands.