Mali: The Army Wins One


June 6, 2013: The Malian army moved into the northeastern town of Kidal and drove the Tuareg MNLA fighters out. The MNLA had controlled Kidal for months as they tried to establish a role in governing the largely Tuareg north. The attack came after months of complaints that MNLA gunmen were attacking blacks in the north and trying to force them to leave. The government accuses the MNLA of ethnic cleansing, as northern Mali is predominately Tuareg and Arab. Because over 90 percent of Malians are black Africans, Tuaregs have always been touchy about blacks moving north to settle. Partly this was because some Tuaregs and Arabs in the north still kept black slaves. Now a lot of those slaves find themselves free after their masters fled, along with several thousand Tuareg, during the French liberation of the north. Groups like al Qaeda are okay with this slavery, as it is commonly discussed in Moslem scripture and the Koran.

The MNLA means (in French) “Liberation Army of Azawad.” That is the Tuareg term for their homeland in northern Mali and until this week its capital was Kidal. The Mali government is upset that MNLA men control most of the rural (and very thinly populated) areas in the north. Mali accuses France of letting this happen, but the French only had an informal deal with MNLA in which the Tuareg would not fire on the incoming troops and would provide information on where the Islamic terrorists were.  France tried to get Mali to make some kind of political settlement with MNLA, but that never went anywhere and the Mali Army wants the Tuareg rebel group crushed.  The Mali government is also angry over the extent to which so many Arabs and Tuaregs in the north cooperated with the Islamic radicals in establishing a new government.

The only large town the MNLA controlled was Kidal. It was thought unlikely that the Mali soldiers and police could handle the MNLA gunmen alone, so the concentration of security forces near Kidal is seen more as a bargaining tactic than as a real threat to the MNLA. Negotiations with the MNLA did not go well, as the rebels were insisting on an autonomy agreement and the French and African peacekeepers have been unwilling to shut down the MNLA for the Mali government. The Mali Army is seen as more of a threat to an elected Mali government than to the Tuareg rebels. But the Mali troops spent over a month moving up several hundred kilometers of road to Kidal and planning their assault. The MNLA seemed to sense that they had been outmaneuvered and evacuated the town, leaving behind a small force to keep the soldiers busy for a while.

The 500 troops from neighboring Burkina Faso that arrived in Timbuktu last April (to replace the French) are complaining about equipment shortages and the lack of promised counter-terrorism training. Burkina Faso is going public with this because the troops in Timbuktu believe they will be unprepared to handle efforts by Islamic terrorist groups to take back control of the city. This sort of problem is expected with many of the African peacekeeper contingents.

France continues to slowly withdraw its troops from Mali and will have only 2,000 in Mali by September. But at least a thousand troops will remain indefinitely. By the end of the year there are supposed to be 12,500 African peacekeepers in the north. French troops continue to search the north for al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorists (like MOJWA) still in the area. Most of these Islamic radicals appear to have fled the country or gone into hiding.

June 5, 2013: The Mali Army began its assault on the northeastern town of Kidal, killing at least ten MNLA men in the initial fighting and capturing 28. The commander of the Malian battalion leading the assault is himself a Tuareg who remained loyal.

June 4, 2013: In Kidal a suicide bomber tried to attack an MNLA leader, but the explosion only killed the attacker. This was apparently an effort by one of the Islamic terrorist groups in the north to get back at MNLA for cooperating with the French and the Mali government.

June 3, 2013: The government has warned the MNLA that government control would return to Kidal before the July 28th elections and that the MNLA should leave voluntarily.

June 2, 2013: France has offered Libya technical and material aid in improving security along their border with Mali.

May 30, 2013: In the capital police said they had detected a terrorist cell and arrested seven members of MOJWA (Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, largely composed of black African Islamic radicals and led by Mauritanians). The seven were sent into the capital without weapons but with instructions to recruit students of religious schools and obtain weapons and bomb making materials and make attacks.

May 28, 2013: MNLA men on the outskirts of Kidal fired on a French patrol, wounding one French soldier. France has a Special Forces camp near Kidal but largely stays out of the town. The French are still searching for Islamic terrorists in the area and the MNLA are generally cooperating. The MNLA are currently a bit nervous about the Mali Army troops that are moving closer to Kidal.

May 23, 2013: Al Qaeda attacked a French uranium mine in neighboring Niger, killing one person and the suicide bomber involved. Another group of terrorists hit a military base 240 kilometers away, killing 18 soldiers and a civilian, along with four attackers. MOJWA (an al Qaeda splinter group) claimed responsibility for both attacks and said it was done to punish France for its intervention in Mali. Some equipment at the mine was damaged and production will be interrupted while repairs are made.

May 22, 2013: China has offered 500 support troops for the Mali peacekeeping force.

May 17, 2013: In the north (200 kilometers south of Kidal) MNLA gunmen fought Islamic terrorists belonging to MOJWA.

May 15, 2013: International donors have pledged at least $4 billion to rebuild northern Mali. The big problem will be preventing the money from being stolen. Corruption is a major problem in Mali and one the main complaints of the Tuareg in the north. 




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