There is also the long experience of operating in the desert that leaders such as Belmoktar have, and the complex relationships between different and often fractious groups.
Another factor is that the United States has not developed the sort of intelligence infrastructure in this region that it painstakingly built up in the tribal areas of Pakistan and Yemen. In December, U.S. officials began discussing with Algeria the possibility that it might acquire its own satellite surveillance system to monitor terrorist movements in southern Algeria.
Analysts warn that however successful the first phase of the French operation in Mali, it is likely to encounter challenges similar to those faced by U.S. and British forces in Iraq as the campaign evolves.
"For months jihadists in Mali have been preparing for a military intervention by creating a network of hundreds of weapons caches and safe houses in the desert where they've stored weapons, ammunition, and food and set up communication channels," Benotman told CNN.
He said Belmoktar in particular may be hard to track down. "He's a survivor -- he knows when to go into hiding when necessary," he told CNN.
That's why French intelligence officials have dubbed him "The Uncatchable."