A Map of the Bewildering Mali Conflict

With French troops committing to a wider ground confrontation with Islamist rebels in Mali, it's worth trying to get a handle on the scale of the conflict. Some observers expect French forces to get bogged down battling a full-blown insurgency, and the reason can be summed up with one bedazzling map:

graphic-mali-conflict-area-615.jpgFrance 24/dpa

If nothing else, the graphic above reveals the scale of the task Paris has set itself. French marines are dealing with no fewer than half a dozen actors in the region -- not all of them hostile, but still confusing. Airstrikes have been geographically distributed, a testament to how diffuse the rebels are (reports suggest the Islamists have stockpiled munitions and supplies around the country in preparation for an extended engagement).

UN-backed forces are still weeks away -- which raises one question: Just what are the French getting themselves into?

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Brian Fung is the technology writer at National Journal. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and has written for Foreign Policy and The Washington Post.

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