Mali update – 2-3-13

Updates from the last week. Don’t know how long I’ll keep posting these summaries, since they are a bit off-topic for my blog. For the moment, plan to continue them a little longer.

1-29Wall Street JournalFrench and Malian Forces Retake Timbuktu.

The militants (that’s the WSJ style definition) left Timbuktu before the troops arrived, which allowed the French forces to retake the city without a battle. There are now 3,500 French troops on the ground.

1-28New York TimesU.S. Weighs Base for Spy Drones in North Africa.

The U.S. is negotiating with the government of Niger for a base in their country. See following report.

1-29Wall Street JournalU.S. to Expand Role in Africa

The U.S. and Niger signed a status of forces agreement which allows the U.S. to put an airbase in the country. It will reportedly be used as a drone base to stage surveillance flights. The expected location is near the border with Mali. It would also be a useful location for surveillance in the entire region. This report and other suggest the base will represent a substantial increase in the level of U.S. involvement.

1-28PBS NewshourReports: Ancient Manuscripts in Timbuktu Damaged During Fighting.

This report and others say that the Islamist fighters (the PBS stylebook) have torched some of the ancient library in Timbuktu. Many reports I’ve read say that centuries of writings are stored in Timbuktu. Large volumes of documents of value in the Islamic faith and lots of written history of the Tuareg people are stored there. Apparently, it is one of the great libraries of the world. I don’t know of these things, but that is a frequent comment in reports.

Apparently the militants/rebels/whomever torched the library on their way out-of-town. Tragic.

1-29 – Gregory Mann at Africa is a CountryTimbuktu: It’s like a library has burned.

The post’s title is a play on a saying in Mali about a people who rely on oral tradition..

When an old man dies, a library has burned.

Now the actual library containing quite a few centuries of written history has been torched.

Mr. Mann holds out hope that much of the library was removed before the most immediate turmoil or is actually held by the rebels. Also, that much of written heritage was widely dispersed anyway.

He also suggests an unpleasant update to the old saying. Check out the article.

1-30Via Meadia – Intrepid Citizens Save Timbuktus’ Priceless Manuscripts

Article summarizes reports elsewhere that Malians moved some 28,000 manuscripts from the library in Timbuktu to safe locations last year. Wonderful news.

1-30Wall Street Journal – France Seizes Vital Airport in Mali

French forces flew into Kidal and took the airport. Next step will be to gain control of the rest of the city. Kidal is in the far northeast corner of Mali, near the borders with Algeria and Niger. No reported resistance or combat. Would seem the rebels/Islamists/extremists left before the planes arrived.

Check out a map and you’ll see the French have quickly retaken towns across the broad sweep of northern Mali – Timbuktu, Gao, Kidal.

The article says the French plan to leave the country soon and want the African forces to take over.  It also reports there are 3,500 French and 2,900 African troops on the ground.

1-30Wall Street Journal – Islamists Falter in Bid for Mali’s Hearts and Minds

Initial reports from areas retaken by French forces suggest the temporary occupation did not win favor from the occupied. In addition to several other reports of looting, the article also says:

In the days before French tanks chased them from the central Mali town of Diabaly, AQIM leaders passed out vegetables and preached about Islamic values, residents said. Other gunmen undermined efforts to win over converts to their puritanical faith by looting shops, stealing sheep and sniffing cocaine.


In towns AQIM and its allies occupied for months, residents endured longer, more grave abuses. In Gao, Islamist gunmen conducted what New York’s Human Rights Watch and the Mali Human Rights Association described as systematic rape.

The article also highlights the wide variety of ethnic groups and nationalities in the militant coalition. As with everything else I’m learning about Mali, it is far more complex that I can grasp.

1-30 – Adam Garfinkle in American Interest – French Kissing Mali

Mr. Garfinkle is not surprised one bit by how fast the French retook all their objectives. His response to a colleague who asked his thoughts:

No, I’m not at all surprised about the initial success of the past 18 days. The French force is the very best France has, and matched against a ragtag guerrilla group it is going to kick ass every time. The French are way down the throats of the enemy, and good for them. I am no more surprised by their success than I was with how fast U.S. forces got to Baghdad in the spring of 2003.

He then outlines two major dangers. First, the fight isn’t over. Their enemy withdrew in advance of their advance and is just waiting to counterattack. Holding an area the size of Texas with meaningless borders on all sides can’t be done with 5,000 or 8,000 troops. The apparent definition of success for the French campaign it to control the entire northern area.

Second, there are two opponents, one of whom isn’t going away: the radical Islamists and the nomadic Tuareg people. The radicals may go away or even be defeated. The nationalistic Tuarag have been around a long time and will be here a long time after this mess is resolved.

On the bad news surfacing after the French retake towns, he says:

Finally, I’m not surprised by the swiftness of the advance, because lunatic Islamists, whether “guest” or native, always alienate the populations they abuse. It happened in Iraq, and now it’s happening in Mali.

If you are still reading my post, you really should go read his article.

1-31Wall Street Journal – French Warplanes Strike Insurgent Redoubt in Mali

Strikes are against storage facilities north of Kidal. French forces still only control the airport at Kidal; they haven’t regained control of the town. Quotes suggest France is about at the limit of their involvement. Malian government is willing to negotiate with some factions of the Tuareg groups.

1-31Wall Street Journal – Historic Timbuktu Texts Saved From Burning

As mentioned in other reports, most of the texts in the main library were relocated. That is very good news.

2-1Wall Street Journal – The Fall of Timbuktu

The editorial celebrates the quick French victory, especially at the hands of the storied Legionnaires. The article suggests Kidal has been retaken, but articles from other places suggest it is still just the airport under French control.

Remember that a woman has to be escorted when in public. This sounds to me like how things were in Afganistan under the Taliban:

“Even if you’re talking to your own blood brother, they [AQIM] hit you,” one female resident told the Associated Press. “Even if you are wearing the veil, and it happens to slip off, they hit you.” Said another: “We were totally deprived of our liberty. We couldn’t listen to music, we couldn’t play soccer. We couldn’t wear the clothes we wanted.”

Check out this very nice complement in the editorial:

In the meantime, it’s worth celebrating the French feat of arms. The Foreign Legion has a reputation (doubtlessly out of date) for attracting rough men in the cause of a rough business. In Mali, they have been the margin between civilization and barbarism.

2-2Wall Street Journal – French President Speaks of Exit from Mali

President Hollande visited Timbuktu on Saturday.

I’m not informed enough or perceptive enough to read between the lines of his comments. He suggested France isn’t done in the fight against the rebels/militants, which suggests the French aren’t leaving soon. At the same time he said the transition to having the Malian army and other troops maintain control over the recaptured towns will happen soon, which suggests the French troops won’t be doing much outside Bamako.

The article also says the troops have retaken Kidal, although that is fuzzy to me.

2-2Reuters – Mali hails “savior” Hollande, he says fight not over

Comments in this article say that France will pull its troops out of the country when Malian and other troops have “restored sovereignty” over all territory.

2-3Reuters – French planes pound Islamist camps in northern Mali desert.

Multiple reports, including the one above, say the French conducted air strikes in the area north of Kidal, near the Algeria border.

This report refers to the opposition force as Islamist rebels and a describes Ansar Dine as a militant group. I’ve been noticing a variety of ways of referring to the people whom the French are fighting.

The report also mentions ground combat in the area around Kidal. That’s the first clear comment I’ve noticed of actual ground combat.

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