Configuration of recent events

Source material and all quotes are from a Joshua Hammer article, “When the Jihad Came to Mali“, in the New York Review of Books, March 21, 2013 edition.

Hammer is quoted extensively. While not all the events he describes are pleasant, his writing is a joy to read.

After the fall of Qaddafi in 2011 in Libya, Tuareg mercenaries returned to Mali and together with Islamic militants, took over northern Mali. “Tuareg warriors declared themselves the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a secular group seeking the independence of the traditional Tuareg territory they call Azawad and that takes up about 60 percent of Mali’s total area.”

Shortly afterwards,
founded a rival movement designed to appeal to disaffected Tuaregs looking for a more Islamic orientation. Hammer writes: “Algerian intelligence officials—so I learned in Algiers—saw Ghali as a stabilizing force and a counterweight to the Tuareg independence fighters. They cultivated him and provided his followers with food, gasoline, and other supplies. In fact, Ghali was already meeting with a counterpart in al-Qaeda, and planning jihad.”

Shortly thereafter, the jihadists kicked the Tuaregs out and took over, attracting the attention of among others France and the U.S.A, as a potential center for terrorists.

The West and regional governments share some of the blame for the course that events followed. “…high ranking Malian officials and Muslim militants worked together in the drug trade—turning part of the Sahara desert into a transit point for cocaine between South America and Europe”.

Not only did the U.S.A. spend hundreds of millions on military aid in the Sahara that accomplished nothing, the “US passed up opportunities to act against the extremists, and ignored obvious signs that Mali’s army was completely outmatched.”

January 24, 2012 militants attacked northern Mali. Militant Tuaregs and Muslim jihadists took control of Aguélock, the army’s main base in the Sahara and then six weeks later, of of Tessalit, another base in the far north.

Meanwhile junior military officers overthrew the president, accusing him of not supporting the army. At the same time: “Gao fell on March 31; Tuareg fighters from the MNLA swept into Timbuktu the next morning. Al-Qaeda and Ansar Dine fighters arrived hours later from desert camps, in trucks flying black jihadist flags. They quickly sent the secular Tuaregs to the airport, about four miles outside town”

On December 12, 2012, as Hammer describes it, interweaving the
past as a counterweight to present events. “at Essakane in northern Mali, where Ali Farka Toure and Robert Plant once played guitar beneath the desert stars and Western girls danced in the dunes with their Tuareg guides, six hundred jihadists gathered for a war conference. By selecting the oasis once used for the Festival in the Desert, Iyad Ag Ghali was sending his erstwhile friend Manny Ansar a message. A Malian political figure told me, “He was saying, ‘The place is for jihad now.’”

Mali’s interim president Dioncounda Traoré asked the French for help who responded guns blazing. When the French took back Timbuktu, “Fighters from al-Qaeda and Ansar Dine paused before fleeing to commit one last act of desecration: they set fire to hundreds of manuscripts at the city’s Ahmed Baba Center, a library that I had visited in 2006 and 2009. Timbuktu’s citizens had buried thousands of other ancient books in holes in the desert and elsewhere, and prevented a far graver loss.”“

Status as of Feb. 19, 2013:

Four thousand French troops occupy Gao, Timbuktu and other northern towns, supported by troops from Chad and other African countries. The jihadists are hiding out in the Sahara, biding their time. The French say they will leave in March, which is when LSW is writing this. A search on French troops in Mali returns this article , Islamists Rebound In Mali And Govern A City In Syria from the Ottawa Citizen,among several others:
“The Islamist movement appears to be establishing itself further in North Africa. After the French government declared the Islamist rebel movement in Mali defeated (mostly), its forces struck back on the weekend, attacking the northern Malian town of Gao. The rebels attacked the north’s largest town just days after French President Francois Hollande said Mali’s sovereignty had almost been restored, according to Reuters news service. It was the third major offensive there by Islamists since the town was retaken by a French-led military operation in late January, the news service pointed out.”

Chad claims they killed Mokhtar Belmokhtar in early March while an article, Confusion reigns in confirming deaths of senior AQIM leaders in Mali, in the Long War Journal says that his death remains uncertain.