French, Malian Troops Take Timbuktu Without A Fight

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French and Malian forces have retaken the towns of Timbuktu and Gao in the nation’s North over the weekend, in both cases without meeting resistance, leaving just one major town in rebel hands. Their forces have been bolstered by the first Chadian and Nigerian troops out of an expected total of 7,700 from the ECOWAS organisation.

McClatchy reports that the Islamist opposition are fleeing in large numbers well in advance of the French-led advance – and that rebel fighters aren’t the only ones fleeing.

The Islamists, who have controlled northern Mali since last spring, have melted away in the past week under French air strikes and special forces operations after initially advancing in the first days of France’s intervention in Mali, which began Jan. 10.

France since has taken advantage of the rebels’ apparent preference for flight instead of fight when faced with the superior military power. The Islamists mostly have disappeared before French forces arrive, avoiding inch-for-inch street battles for population centers.

For example, by Monday, Islamist forces had deserted the town of Gossi, on the road between Sevare – the base of French and Malian operations – and Gao, according to two village residents, including the district chief.

“After hearing of the withdrawal from Douentza, the armed rebels fled,” said local chief Mohammed Sidiya Maiga.

On Monday, about 30 vehicles had sped through the town from the southwest in retreat.

Most of the town’s Arab residents also had fled to nearby Bourkina Faso, fearing retribution at the hands of the Malian military, most of whom are black Africans, Maiga said.

That fear is not an irrational one, although there’s little doubt the Islamist rebels have committed atrocities, there have been reports of several crimes by Malian troops too.

So is France’s intervention a roaring success, over in days against the expectations of many? Hardly.  Reuters, via The Guardian, notes:

The rebels appeared to be withdrawing further north into the trackless wilderness of the Sahara, from where some military experts fear they could wage a guerrilla war.

This is simply where the parallels to Afghanistan really start to bite, and possibly spread into neighboring nations – with the only real way to ending the war being a political solution.

1 comment to French, Malian Troops Take Timbuktu Without A Fight

  • US Official: Mali Intervention ‘Could Take Years’ (ABC News).

    Don Yamamoto warned that intervention could take years before finding success.

    “This is only the first phase. It is going to take time. I think people should not be into the illusion that it is going to be quick,” said Yamamoto, the principal deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

    “It is going to take a long time and time means that it could take several years. And you got do it right,” Yamamoto told The Associated Press on the sidelines of the African Union summit in Ethiopia.

    What you have to “do right” being COIN with a huge dose of nation-building on the side. The trouble is, the West has proven it isn’t very good at that and Mali isn’t the best place to do it.

    J. Peter Pham, Managing Mali:

    Counterinsurgency is, after all, a contest for legitimacy. The current Malian regime with its façade of civilian faces drawn from the country’s widely discredited political elites fronting for a lowly captain-turned-putschist, Amadou Haya Sanogo, who likes to compare himself to Charles de Gaulle, is hardly a paragon of political legitimacy. With barely three months left to its mandate, the transitional government has taken no steps toward a restoration of constitutional order, to say nothing about any political reforms. And with the decision of the European Commission, after intense French lobbying, to resume suspended budgetary support to the tune of 92 million euros this year alone, what incentive would the politicians in Bamako have?

    As for Malian military, when it is not in headlong flight from the Islamists, its members seem to busy themselves with summary executions and other human rights abuses. A report earlier this month by Amnesty International noted that Malian forces have “committed violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including the extrajudicial executions of Tuareg civilians, indiscriminate shelling of a Tuareg nomadic camp, and killing livestock which the nomadic population rely on for survival. Crimes are not confined to the north of the country. Amnesty International has also documented cases of torture; extrajudicial executions; enforced disappearances; and attacks against political leaders, journalists, and other people who expressed dissent peacefully in the south, where the capital Bamako lies.” This is a record that hardly makes the task of getting the Tuareg and other northern groups—whom Africa Center senior fellow Rudolph Atallah, former Africa counter-terrorism director in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, has termed the “force multiplier against the Islamists”—to fight alongside French and other forces that much more difficult.

    The Economist coined a phrase this week we’ll be seeing more of: Afrighanistan.

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