Mali rebels melt away in face of French advance – TheGuardianJust two weeks after intervening in Mali, French troops, toge...
Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), a violent offshoot of AQIM.At least two other rebel factions are active in northern Mali. On...
president at the time, Amadou Toumani Touré, admitted that drug revenues were fuelling Mali’sspiralling insurgency.Leaked ...
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Mali rebels melt away in face of French advance – The Guardian

  1. 1. Mali rebels melt away in face of French advance – TheGuardianJust two weeks after intervening in Mali, French troops, together with the Malian army, havewrested back control of most of the north of the country from Islamist rebels.At the weekend the French seized back Gao – under jihadist control since last April – securingthe airport and the bridge across the Niger river. Thousands of residents turned out to celebrate,shouting “Liberté!” and “Vive la France!” The French suffered no losses with around a dozen“terrorists” killed, the French defence ministry said. The rebels were said to have fled on foot,or by camel, since there was no fuel.At the same time, a column of French troops were trundling serenely towards Timbuktu, theremote Saharan town that has been a magnet for the intrepid and the foolhardy since the 19thcentury. French and Malian troops reached Timbuktu’s gates on Saturday, army sources said.The town’s maze of mud-walled mosques and sand-blown streets was deserted. Fighters fromal-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) that took Timbuktu last summer appeared to have left.Elsewhere, French jets pounded the mountainous rebel-held town of Kidal. Mokhtar Belmokhtar,the AQIM commander behind the recent attack on the Amenas gas facility in Algeria in which 37workers were killed, is said to be holed up there.But despite these swift successes, it is uncertain whether France’s giddy military advance willdeliver any kind of lasting peace. So far the “war” in Mali has involved little fighting. InsteadIslamist rebels have simply melted back into the civilian population, or disappeared. Refugeeswho fled the rebels’ advance believe it is only a matter of time before the jihadists comecreeping back. “The rebels haven’t gone far,” Mohamad Miaga, a 28-year-old secondaryschool teacher said. “They are in nearby villages.”Miaga, who teaches English, fled his home in Gao last April. He now lives in a refugee camp inthe government-controlled town of Sevare, home to around 4,000 refugees. French soldiersguard the nearby airport.Last year some “200-300 pickup trucks laden with fighters” swept into Gao, he said, destroyingbuildings, including the town’s food security office, and firing randomly. When the rebelsarrived, several terrified residents jumped into wooden boats and escaped to an island in theNiger. He left Gao two weeks later, as the price for a ride out of town soared.“The rebels had big beards. They wore pantaloons. Their trousers didn’t quite reach theirankles. They were a mixture of foreigners and Mali people,” he noted. He added: “Theyimposed sharia law.”Some of the jihadists were Tuareg, the lighter-skinned ethnic group who have been waging abitter on-off secessionist war in the north of Mali for decades, and account for around 11% ofthe north’s population. The rebels who seized Gao came from the Movement for Tawhid and 1/4
  2. 2. Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), a violent offshoot of AQIM.At least two other rebel factions are active in northern Mali. One, the MNLA, is a Tuaregnationalist militia that fought the government but is now seeking an alliance with the capital.Another is Ansar Eddine, an Islamist group controlled by a former MNLA Tuareg leader, Iyad AgGhali. It was Ansar Eddine that seized the central town of Konna on January 10, promptingParis, the former colonial power, to intervene.France’s intervention in Mali, with 3,700 troops, has attracted broad international support.Britain has offered logistical help and two planes. One promptly broke down. The US hasbelatedly agreed to refuel French jets.Western governments have treated the problem of growing Islamist extremism across NorthAfrica as one of “terrorism”. David Cameron has talked of an “existential struggle”, warning itwill take decades to defeat.But in reality, the rebels’ earlier successes had less to do with hardline jihadist doctrine thanwith organised crime and drug smuggling. There is strong evidence, moreover, of collusionbetween the previous and possibly current Mali government and radical Islamist groups.In recent years, western nations have secretly paid millions of dollars in ransom to variousAl-Qaida-allied factions for the release of kidnapped nationals. Since 2008, around 50westerners have been abducted in the region. Eleven are still being held. The biggestbeneficiary of this lucrative industry has undoubtedly been AQIM.It is this western cash – $40m to $65m since 2008 – that has enabled AQIM and other factionsto capture the north. They bought weapons, especially after the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi,and political allies. The weapons facilitated their capture of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu; the Malianarmy fled in disarray.These shadowy groups have also reaped the rewards of another clandestine business: drugs.One police officer showed the Guardian a photo taken in Gao in 2008 of a warehouse stackedwith neat rectangles of cocaine. He estimated its value to be $40m. The most expensive area ofGao, lined with colonial villas, is nicknamed “Cocainebougou” – cocaine town. The officer –speaking anonymously – admitted there was collusion between smugglers and state officials.He added: “[The police] destroyed a small bag to show the public. I’m wondering myself whathappened to the rest.”Since 2005-7, South American drug cartels have been using west Africa as a major transitroute. Typically, the drugs arrive in small, dysfunctional west African coastal states, such asGuinea or Guinea Bissau, and are then shipped overland across the Sahel and Sahara toEurope. The route goes through Morocco, Algeria and Libya, often using ancient camel trails.In 2009 a Boeing 727 landed near Tarkint, north of Gao, and got stuck in the sand. According tothe United Nations Office for Drug Control, it was carrying up to 11 tonnes of cocaine. Thetraffickers collected the cargo, then torched the plane, nicknamed “Air Cocaine”. Mali’s 2/4
  3. 3. president at the time, Amadou Toumani Touré, admitted that drug revenues were fuelling Mali’sspiralling insurgency.Leaked US diplomatic cables reveal Washington’s increasing exasperation with Touré’sfaltering government. They also complain about western countries including Austria and Canadathat secretly paid ransoms to kidnappers. (The Swiss, by contrast, admitted publicly that theyhad stumped up $5m to secure the release of one of their nationals.)Prior to the Islamists’ northern takeover, the US had provided training for the Malian army.During one visit, the head of the US’s Africa command, General William Ward, warned Touréthat he needed to wrest back control of his “undergoverned territory”. Otherwise, Mali wouldcontinue to give “free rein to arms and drugs traffickers and terrorists”, Ward said.But the White House’s stern warnings went unheeded. US diplomats had themselves figuredout why. One cable noted: “It would be difficult for the [Mali] government to fully pursue AQIM,as there were a number of powerful and well-connected individuals who were profiting fromAl-Qaida’s smuggling activities.”By last year, events were running out of control. In March a group of low-ranking army officerstoppled the president in a coup, after Tuareg rebels joined forces with the jihadists. Touré fled toSenegal.His interim successor was badly hurt, when a mob stormed the presidential palace. The Maliarmy failed to protect him, probably deliberately. The country of 14 million, one of the poorest inthe world, has yet to return to democracy, with France now coming to the aid of an unelectedstate.Analysts are scathing about the west’s failures in Mali, which should be offset against France’smilitary success. “Western governments have been playing an overwhelmingly negative role bypaying ransoms and supplying what is most likely AQIM’s and MUJAO’s most importantsources of financing,” Wolfram Lacher noted in a September report for the CarnegieEndowment for International Peace.For now, France is winning. But destroying a couple of AQIM bases and driving the rebels fromMali’s northern cities is the easy bit. The challenge will be holding on to the territory against anebulous and cunning foe and, perhaps, somehow incorporating the rebels into a lastingpolitical solution. That won’t be easy.And then there is the miserably unclear fate of the western hostages. The 11 include nationalsfrom France, South Africa, Switzerland and Sweden. All are tourists with a taste for adventurewhose luck ran out. “After the war, they [the rebels] have something very important. They havethe hostages,” the police officer involved in the successful 2009 rescue said. “They are theultimate bargaining card.” 3/4
  4. 4. Source Article from Mali rebels melt away in face of French advance – The Guardian A&url= World – Google News Google News Mali rebels melt away in face of French advance – The Guardian 4/4Powered by TCPDF (