Mali update – 2-10-13 – The ‘fun’ part is over while the war has just begun

Some of the news of the last week –

2-2The Guardian – Inside Gao where Arab jihadis took bloody sharia retribution on Mali’s black Africans

More stories are surfacing of the brutality of the occupation. In addition, the punishments appear to have been dispensed on an ethnic basis:

“If you are a Tuareg or Arab, or if you look like them, they don’t threaten you,” said Alzouma, the amputee, who is from the Bella, the group traditionally used as slaves by the Tuareg. “Their people smuggle drugs, cigarettes and everything, but they don’t threaten their own families, just black people – the Songhai, the Bella and the Bambara.”

2-6The Economist – Where have the jihadists gone?

Article speculates on the French strategy:

They are less united than before. The aim of the French and their Malian allies is to separate the religious zealots, hailing mainly from Algeria and beyond, from native Malians and the less fanatical rebels.

If that’s the case, in addition to quickly retaking the occupied cities, they’ve had success:

Mali’s loose mix of jihadist and Tuareg rebel groups has dispersed. The lighter-skinned ones and ethnic Arabs tended to go north into the desert; the dark-skinned ones fled south to the arid farmlands.

One splinter group is reportedly wanting to negotiate with the government. The next big challenge will be the African troops holding the cities when the jihadists (Economist’s stylebook) engage guerilla tactics.

The bigger challenge will be rebuilding the country politically:

The hard part of putting Mali back together has barely begun

2-6Wall Street Journal – Troops Are Trying for Shift in Mali

Soldiers from neighboring countries are arriving in Mali. The French hope to start reducing their number of soldiers in the country. The article points out the arriving troops lack equipment and may not have the training to run a counter-insurgency campaign.

2-8Wall Street Journal – Suicide Bombing Hits Mali; Troops Fire on Civilians

A suicide bomber hit a group of Malian soldiers in the city of Gao.

In Bamako, civilians gathered to ask regular army soldiers outside the compound of paramilitary soldiers to leave. The paramilitary troops are loyal to the ousted president. The regular troops fired on the crowd, allegedly killing two children.

2-8 – Reuters – French charge north in Mali, Bamako shooting kills two

French paratroopers dropped into Tessalit and seized control. That is a city near the Algerian border and is the furthest north they have reached.

2-9 New York Times – Mali War Shifts as Rebels Hide in High Sahara

Article points out the desert where the rebels are hiding is very difficult to navigate and maneuver. Air strikes are down, presumably because there aren’t good targets in the desert and the rebels well disbursed and hiding.

2-10Wall Street Journal – Second Suicide Attack, Gunbattles Erupt in Mali

Running gun battle broke out in Gao, one of the towns easily retaken by French forces. A second suicide bomber hit a Gao checkpoint, killing only himself.

Looks like the counterattack via guerilla tactics has begun.

2-10Via Meadia – France Pounds Sand in the Sahara

Article says Kidal was the last major town in northern Mali that needed to be retaken.

Via Meadia’s sobering assessment:

The fun part of the Mali war is over, but the war itself has only just begun. The bombing raids that wipe out enemy formations, the fall of cities, the parades with the kisses and flowers: All that is pretty much over and done with, but the enemy survives and will be heard from again.

The really hard work has just begun – hitting the hidden rebels and negotiating a political settlement.

Via Meadia has a depressing though vivid description on near-term prospects:

The Malian government remains a pathetic shambles; the Malian armed forces make Italy look like Prussia, and the French lack the will and the capacity for successful desert warfare in the high desert.

Not a promising formula for success.

The article closes with a good analysis of the medium-term prospects for countering the radicals.

Moving from roughly southwest to northeast, the French forces have quickly recaptured Diabaly, Timbuktu, Gao, Kidal, and Tessalit.

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