Two major challenges will confront the Franco-Malian efforts to regain control of northern Mali from the jihadist fighters who have occupied it for the past year.
These have become more urgent still following the launching of France and Mali's counter-offensive against the march southwards of jihadist forces on 11 January, and the bolstering of those efforts by as many as 5,000 troops from West African countries.
Within the first week of fighting it was clear that both French president François Hollande and Malian interim president Dioncounda Traoré had underestimated the numbers of trained jihadist fighters – now reckoned to be at least 6,000 strong – and their resourcefulness, even under air attack.
That creates the first challenge. The jihadist fighters, despite their bellicose rhetoric, will avoid direct battles with the French.
The Franco-Malian forces may find it possible to retake the three major cities in the north – Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal – relatively quickly.
There are reports of many traps and ambushes being laid for the advancing troops.
Most likely, the jihadist forces will quietly leave the towns, as they have in Somalia, Afghanistan and northern Nigeria, but maintain a capacity for terror and sabotage to undermine chances of stabilising the area.
Secondly, the arrival of perhaps 7,500 foreign troops does nothing to enhance the legitimacy of Traoré's supposedly transitional government or the national army, which has its own coterie of political office seekers, not least the leader of last year's putsch, Captain Amadou Sanogo.
The foreign intervention should make the political conference Malians are demanding an even bigger priority for Traoré and his ministers.
As the counter-offensives face setbacks, the government's lack of legitimacy could prove a critical flaw.
Mali faces at least three wars in the months ahead.
First, to restore some stability to northern Mali, which for much of the past decade has been dominated by gangs trafficking drugs, arms and illegal immigrants to fund the jihadist forces.
This zone of criminalisation has begot the two other wars: the war on the drug trafficking, which has seen profitable partnerships between Columbian cartels and Sahelian-based drug lords in corrupt networks with Algeria and Mali's senior military officers.
The other war pits France and its Western allies against the jihadists' attempts to establish a state in northern Mali, from which they could destabilise many other countries and easily reach into Europe●