Netherlands Mulls Sending Commandos, Helicopters to Mali

The Dutch government is expected to announce next week that it will send up to four hundred soldiers, including elite commandos, as well as Apache attack helicopters to Mali following an appeal for more United Nations peacekeepers.

The body’s special representative to Mali, former Dutch international development minister Bert Koenders, told the Security Council last week that the international force in the West African country needed helicopters and more troops as it builds up to replace the French army that intervened there early this year to halt an Islamist takeover. Koenders described recent attacks in the north of the country as a “wake-up call.” Read more “Netherlands Mulls Sending Commandos, Helicopters to Mali”

France Seeks Tuareg Inclusion to Malian Government’s Chagrin

A standoff over how to restore government control in Mali’s northeast has highlighted discord between the African country and its former colonizer. France, which intervened in Mali earlier this year to help suppress an Islamist insurgency there, seeks a political rather than a military solution to reintegrating the Saharan desert town of Kidal, Tuareg separatists’ last stronghold.

Mali’s army has moved troops toward Kidal but France, which has its own forces camped outside, is seen as blocking their advance. It is urging Mali’s government to address the Tuaregs’ demands for increased autonomy instead and fears ethnic bloodshed if the African soldiers move into Kidal.

Much of Mali’s north fell into the hands of radical Muslim and Tuareg fighters last year, including members of Al Qaeda’s North African wing and the local group Ansar Dine, who declared an independent state in the area and imposed strict Islamic law. They had been able to seize on Arab and Western powers’ intervention in Libya a year earlier which caused the displacement of Tuareg mercenaries previously employed by the regime in Tripoli as well as Algerian counterterrorism offensives in recent years that pushed Muslim extremists south. Read more “France Seeks Tuareg Inclusion to Malian Government’s Chagrin”

Despite Interventions, Libyan, Malian Islamist Threat Rising

Despite Western military interventions in both African countries’ civil wars, the Islamist threat in Libya and Mali is rising, Britain’s The Guardian newspaper reported on Sunday.

According to Afua Hirsch, the paper’s West Africa correspondent, “The security problems in northern Mali, where militants have lost their grip on towns but large weapons caches are believed to be hidden in the desert, have dampened the jubilant spirit that arose when French forces swept into the region in January.”

Timbuktu and other towns in the north of the country, where Islamists, in alliance with local Tuareg secessionists, carved out an independent state last year, are regularly rocked by suicide bombings, “previously unheard of in the country.” Read more “Despite Interventions, Libyan, Malian Islamist Threat Rising”

France Extends Mali Mission, Army Training Underfunded

France’s parliament on Monday voted to extend its military mission in West African Mali despite complaints from one of its officers that the effort is underfunded.

“They’re managing misery,” Bruno Heluin, who runs the European Union’s training of Malian soldiers, told Le Monde newspaper. He complained of corruption, nepotism and theft in the army and accused foreign powers of failing to honor their promises of aid.

The international community said, “We absolutely need to rebuild the Malian army.” But not one euro cent has been given to the Malian army.

France is slowly pulling its soldiers out of the country, currently numbering some 4,000, after it intervened in January to help Malian forces drive back an offensive by Islamist militants who had declared an independent state in the north. French troops and fighter jets, supported by American and European allies, forced the insurgents to abandon their strongholds and seek refuge in the desert. Central government control was nominally restored. Read more “France Extends Mali Mission, Army Training Underfunded”

France Won’t Pull Troops Out of Mali Before Year’s End

President François Hollande said on Friday that French forces in Mali will be drawn down to 1,000 by the end of the year. 4,000 French troops are currently deployed in the West African country to suppress an Islamist insurgency there.

In a television interview, the French leader said troop levels will be cut in half by July when presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place in Mali. He insisted that there was no preference for any candidate in Paris. “The days when France chose Africa’s heads of state for it are over.”

Hollande previously insisted that his soldiers would stay in Mali until sovereignty was restored. “There is still a whole part of the north that remains unconquered,” he said during a visit in February. Militants have sought refuge there since they were driven out of the cities and major towns in the center part of the country by French and Malian forces early this year. Read more “France Won’t Pull Troops Out of Mali Before Year’s End”

Defense Chief: France to Leave Mali Once Security Restored

France won’t hand over its mission in Mali until security is restored, defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told his troops during a surprise visit to the north of the African country where they are battling an Islamist insurgency with local and neighboring armed forces.

Le Drian earlier predicted that France’s involvement in Mali’s counterinsurgency would last no more than “a matter of weeks” while foreign minister Laurent Fabius said in late January that French troops would pull out “quickly” after the rebels had been driven out of the cities and major towns. Soldiers from other West African countries are supposed to take over from the French and help the Malian army in preventing the Islamists from resurging. Read more “Defense Chief: France to Leave Mali Once Security Restored”

France Stays Longer in Mali, Tuareg Join Fight

France troops will likely remain in Mali for several more months to support local and neighboring armies in suppressing an Islamist insurgency in the north of the African country that was driven into the countryside last month by its military intervention.

One French diplomat told the Associated Press this week that the nation’s military presence is expected to remain for at least six months. Two other officials said that France’s participation in the counterinsurgency will last at least until July when it hopes Mali can hold elections, well beyond the March deadline that was originally set in Paris.

During his visit to Mali early last month, President François Hollande promised that his forces would stay in Mali until sovereignty was restored. “There is still a whole part of the north that remains unconquered,” he said after French and Malian soldiers had pushed the rebels out of the major cities and towns of the region. “We have not yet finished our mission. But we do not foresee staying indefinitely.” Read more “France Stays Longer in Mali, Tuareg Join Fight”

Chadian Soldiers Killed in North Mali Battle

Ten Chadian soldiers were killed in combat in the north of Mali near the border with Algeria, the African nation’s army reported on Sunday.

On Friday, another thirteen Chadian troops died in clashes with Islamist insurgents who were pushed out of the major cities and towns of northern Mali in a French military intervention last month. One French soldier died in fighting in the same area last week.

France launched airstrikes against insurgents in its former colony in early January when they appeared to advance on the capital city Bamako. It followed up with ground deployments numbering over 3,000 soldiers who were able to aid the Malian army in forcing the insurgents to abandon their strongholds and seek refuge in the northern deserts and mountain ranges of the sub-Saharan country. Read more “Chadian Soldiers Killed in North Mali Battle”

France to Stay in Mali Until “Sovereignty Restored”

French forces will remain in Mali until sovereignty is restored in the country and neighboring West African troops are able to take over the counterinsurgency effort, President François Hollande said on Saturday.

The French leader, who visited the Malian capital Bamako as well as the northern city of Timbuktu, which was conquered on the northern rebels less than a week before, said, “We have not yet finished our mission. But we do not foresee staying indefinitely.”

France’s foreign minister Laurent Fabius had said on Wednesday that the country would pull its troops out of Mali “quickly” after the Islamist insurgents had been driven out of the cities and main towns in the central and northern parts of the country.

Hollande cautioned on Saturday that while French and Malian soldiers had inflicted “heavy losses” on the rebels, the uprising wasn’t eliminated altogether. “There is still a whole part of the north that remains unconquered,” he said. Read more “France to Stay in Mali Until “Sovereignty Restored””

French Move Into Malian Rebel Stronghold, Leaving “Quickly”

Laurent Fabius
French foreign minister Laurent Fabius leaves the Elysée Palace in Paris, May 15, 2012 (Wikimedia Commons)

France’s foreign minister said on Wednesday that his nation’s troops will leave Mali “quickly” after they moved into the last urban rebel stronghold in the north of the country.

The city of Kidal was the last town in rebel hands after French and Malian forces conquered Gao and Timbuktu last Sunday and Monday, respectively. French soldiers secured Kidal’s airport on Wednesday and appeared to have pushed the Islamist militants who established their rule there last year into the desert wastes and mountain ranges surrounding the area.

France launched airstrikes against insurgents in its former colony when they appeared to advance on the capital city Bamako more than two weeks ago. It followed up with ground deployments now numbering over 3,000 soldiers who have been able to aid the Malian army in retaking several cities and towns in the central and northern parts of the country.

“Now it’s up to African countries to take over,” foreign minister Laurent Fabius told Le Parisien newspaper. Read more “French Move Into Malian Rebel Stronghold, Leaving “Quickly””