West African nations at war in Mali- France, Benin, Guinea, Nigeria, Ghana, Niger, Senegal and Togo

January 15, 2013

Africa, International

Mali conflict: France has opened gates of hell, say rebels

Islamist militant leader warns French government as fighter jets continue assault on rebel camps and convoys in central Mali

French troops in Africa

Afua Hirsch in Bamako and Kim Willsher in Paris
The Guardian

Islamist fighters in Mali captured a central town on Monday as a ferocious campaign of air strikes by French warplanes aimed at halting their advance entered its fourth day.

Despite intensive bombardments, the fundamentalist insurgents pushing south towards the capital, Bamako, overran the central town of Diabaly, just 250 miles to the north.

An Islamist militant leader warned the French government its intervention in Mali had opened the “gates of hell”.

France’s defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said that in a counter-offensive heavily armed rebels “took Diabaly after fierce fighting and resistance from the Malian army that couldn’t hold them back”.

France immediately extended its bombardment of the Islamists with air strikes in central Mali.

While officials in Paris declared they were “satisfied” with Operation Serval, as the French military intervention is codenamed, the military was also reporting unexpectedly fierce resistance in the west of the country.

Le Drian said the situation was “evolving favorably”, but admitted: “There remains a difficult point to the west where we have to deal with extremely well-armed groups.”

The Islamists’ advance on Monday came as fighter jets dropped bombs and strafed their camps and convoys.

“We know that the nub, the most important [action] will happen towards the west,” Le Drian added. “We bombed towards the west overnight and we are continuing bombing towards the west today because it’s here that the most important fighting is taking place.

“The forces of the terrorist groups are exactly what we expected. They are heavily armed. They are very determined. They are very well organized. We knew this,” he said.

The French radio station Europe 1 broadcast a telephone interview with Omar Ould Hamaha, an Islamist militant leader. He said the French government had opened the “gates of hell” and “fallen into a trap much more dangerous than Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia”. Hamaha, known as “Red Beard” because of his hennaed hair, added: “And it’s only just started.”

Hamaha goaded French fighters: “Come down to earth if you are men,” he said. “We’ll welcome them with open arms.”

In Bamako, where a state of emergency remains in place, there was a heavy military presence on the streets. Civilian trucks, vans and transport vehicles have been commandeered by the army in recent days to ferry personnel around the city.

Soldiers from other African nations have been seen in Bamako, and were due to be sent north to support the Malian army, but residents in the key strategic town of Mopti said they had yet to arrive.

“We are hearing reports that troops from Burkina Faso are driving by land to Mopti and will be arriving in the next few hours,” said Issa Ballo, a Mopti resident.

“Things have quietened in Mopti since the French arrived, but the roads around all the military camps are blocked and the area around the airport is sealed off.”

France has been carrying out air attacks on the Islamists in the north of Mali since Friday evening in an attempt to stop the militants gaining control of the country. Paris justified the intervention on the grounds of maintaining stability in the region and reducing the risk of terrorist attacks elsewhere, including France.

About 500 French ground troops are already in Bamako and others are expected to follow. Reinforcements are expected from neighboring African countries including Nigeria, Niger, Burkina Faso, Togo, Senegal and Benin.

The EU will hold an emergency meeting on Thursday to assess the situation, the EU foreign affairs chief, Catherine Ashton, said. “I have convened an extraordinary Foreign Affairs Council this week to take stock of possible EU actions in support of Mali (government) … to help it cope with the current situation,” she said in a statement.

Earlier, an EU spokesman, Michael Mann, said the EU was speeding up its preparations for a troop training mission but was not planning any combat role.

The US defence secretary, Leon Panetta, said the US was providing intelligence-gathering assistance to the French in Mali.

The north of Mali fell under the control of Islamists nine months ago. As the international community dithered over what to do, France decided to launch a campaign of air strikes after rebel convoys were reported to be moving south towards Bamako.The French strikes are being carried out by Mirage 2000 fighter jets based in Chad and Gazelle helicopter gunships. Rafale jets are also reported to be flying bombing missions from France.

A group of independence-seeking Touaregs has said it will support the Malian government and French in the battle against the Islamists. The MNLA (Mouvement National pour la Libération de l’Azawad) said it was “ready to help” the French in their “attempts to end terrorism in the Azawad”. The Azawad is the northern region occupied by the Islamists.

“We totally support the French air campaign. Of course we are ready to help the French army work on the ground,” one of the MNLA’s leaders said on Monday.

“Because of our knowledge of the ground and the populations, we are more useful a force than that of CEDEAO (Communauté Economique des Etats de l’Afrique de l’Ouest), which will be deployed to back up the Malian army,” he added.

On Monday, the French military bombed Islamist bases in Douentza, 500 miles north of Bamako, for the fourth day running. However, the fundamentalists were reported to have already fled the town.

The air campaign was said to have had more success at the northern Islamist camp at Gao. “At the Gao military camp there have been deaths. The Islamists were taken by surprise in the middle of a meeting. There were a lot killed,” a Malian regional security source told AFP. “They lost an enormous amount of logistics and men. The figure of 60 deaths isn’t an exaggeration at Gao and might even be higher.”

Patrick Smith, editor of Africa Confidential, the authoritative newsletter covering African economic and political affairs, who was in Mali in November, told the Guardian the French military operation raised more questions than it answered. “I’m not surprised about the military intervention. There were French special forces on the ground for the best part of the last year. They were there when I was in Mali and had spotted a couple of French passport holders heading for the north to join the jihadists,” he said.

“It was clear they had been tracking them. It wasn’t a surprise either to all the aficionados who think France has decided to ramp this up into a full-scale emergency, zap the hell out of the jihadists and shut them up for a while to give the African forces time to get organized. The big danger is thinking bashing these [Islamist] camps to bits means the problem is over.

“There is a genuine fear that these people could come from north Mali and set off bombs on the Champs Elysées.”

Smith said it was hard to quantify support for the Islamic fundamentalists among the Malian population.

“It’s unknowable. Some people will tell you they have no support at all and it’s all at the point of a gun, others that they do have support.

“What they do have is a lot of money. Tens of millions of dollars from people and cocaine smuggling, so they can pay much better wages than the state army. They may not have the hearts and minds, but they certainly have the dosh.”The humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières said on Monday it was treating civilians injured in the conflict and was worried about those living close to the combat zones.

“We call on all parties to the conflict to respect the safety of civilians and to leave medical facilities untouched,” said Rosa Crestani, MSF’s emergency response co-ordinator.Save the Children warned that women and children were being forced to flee for their lives were among the poorest and most vulnerable in the country. Families forced from their homes are adding to nearly 350,000 people who fled the region after last year’s fighting erupted.

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France is in Mali, with the support of the UN

Le Monde.fr with AFP and Reuters

Following the Security Council consultations on the French intervention in Mali, Monday, January 14, the French ambassador to the United Nations Organization welcomed “the understanding and support of all partners” France within the Council.

“All of our partners have recognized that France is in conformity with international law and the UN Charter,” said Gérard Araud. He reiterated that the priority for France was “quick implementation of Resolution 2085 of the UN”, adopted on 20 December.

This resolution authorizes the deployment of an international force term, mainly African – dubbed “Mission to Mali international support” (Misma) – to reconquer northern Mali, in the hands of Islamist militants, but it also invites a political reconciliation in Bamako and negotiations with rebel groups which dissociate North terrorism.

http://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2013/01/15/paris-a-le-soutien-de-l-onu-au-mali_1816984_3212.html

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West African nations entering Mali

Guinea decided to send military contingent to Bamako

Xinhua

The Guinean government on Monday decided to send a military contingent to Mali to join international forces to help Mali recover its northern land occupied by rebel groups nine months ago, said the Guinean government through an official statement. “Given the evolution of the military situation in Mali and in accordance with its international commitments, in particular that of the ECOWAS, Guinea has decided to send a company (about 150 men) to the Republic of Mali to participate the ongoing operations,” the statement said. However, unlike other countries in the African sub-regions, the Guinean government has not provided details on the military arsenal ready for Bamako (number of weapons and materials).

Nigeria’s President Jonathan says troops to arrive Mali in coming days

Xinhua

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on Monday said his administration has concluded arrangement to deploy soldiers to Mali before next week. The Nigerian leader made this known during a reception for members of Diplomatic Corps at the State House Abuja. The president said countries should collectively condemn terrorism as they are not prepared to surrender any part of the globe to extremism. “We are confronted presently with a situation in Mali. Let me assure you and the global community that as a nation we will work with other nations to make sure that the problem in Mali is solved, ” he added. “Already our technical team are already in Mali so definitely the Nigeria troop will be in Mali before next week,” he said. “Of course we members of ECOWAS are meeting this weekend. Our expectation is that by next week most other ECOWAS countries that pledged troops would have sent them so that our men will be on ground to assist Mali to liberate the country,” the Nigerian leader told his audience. “We can no longer surrender any part of the globe to extremism, because it doesn’t pay and we don’t know the next victim. We must collectively discourage individuals or group of individuals that will take laws in to their hands and make the world a place that is not safe for all of us,” he said.

Ghana to join ECOMOG Troops in Mali operations

Xinhua

Ghana Armed Forces (GAF) confirmed on Monday that it is ready with its contribution of mainly Engineer corps under the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) in its planned operations in Mali. Speaking to Xinhua via telephone, Director of Public Relations at the GAF, Colonel M’Bawine Attintande, said the troops, comprising 120 soldiers, were ready to move at any time. “The decision has been made. The 120 personnel have been fully trained and we are fully ready with equipment, waiting for orders to move in,” Col. Attintande assured. He said the troop is prepared and equipment has been allocated for the Specialist Engineers Squadron to be sent to work under the ECOWAS and African Union intervention force in the Sahellian country, which has been under pressure from the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Islamic group, Ansar Dine. The decision to send Ghanaian troops, Col. Attintande explained, hinged on the request made by the ECOWAS to all member-countries to contribute troops with different expertise to the African Union Regional Intervention Force yet to be deployed in Mali. Other countries which have already prepared troops for the regional force include Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Niger. The MUJAO and their allies, believed to have close ties with al- Qaida, wrestled much of northern Mali from government control in 2012 in the aftermath of the military coup in that country. Following the United Nations (UN) Resolution 2071 passed by the 15-member Security Council last October, ECOWAS offered to send a force of about 3,000 soldiers to stabilize Mali, rebuild the country’s shattered army and help drive the militants from the north.

Niger says sending 500 soldiers to Mali operation

Reuters

Niger will send 500 soldiers to join an international military campaign in Mali led by West African regional bloc ECOWAS to quash advances by Islamist rebels, Foreign Minister Mohamed Bazoum told Reuters on Saturday. “We are sending a battalion of around 500 individuals under the ECOWAS plan,” Bazoum told Reuters by telephone, adding that he could not say exactly when the troops would arrive.

Niger holds security meeting over Mali conflict

AFP reports: Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou told Radio France Internationale (RFI) that “the Malian territory and people are victims of an aggression led by a coalition of terrorists and drug dealers, who flaunt a religious cloak, but have nothing Muslim about them.” “Niger will therefore meet its responsibilities to free the north of Mali and rid the Sahel of these criminals,” he added.

Benin to send 300 soldiers to Mali

Panapress

Benin will send 300 soldiers to Mali within the framework of the West African force to help liberate the northern part of the country.

South Africa has ‘no plans’ to send troops to Mali
Burkina Faso, Niger, Senegal and Togo all pledged around 500 troops

AFP

South Africa was not planning to send soldiers to help Mali’s government battle Islamist rebels that have occupied the north of the country, the foreign affairs spokesman said Sunday.

“I’m not aware of such plans. If there’s such a decision there will be an announcement,” the foreign ministry’s Clayson Monyela told AFP.

Burkina Faso, Niger, Senegal and Togo all pledged around 500 troops this weekend while Benin has said it will send 300 soldiers.

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Video: What is France risking in Mali?

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Mali

Population: 15,494,466 (July 2012 est.)

Official language: French
Bambara 80%, numerous African languages

Ethnic groups:
Mande 50% (Bambara, Malinke, Soninke), Peul 17%, Voltaic 12%, Songhai 6%, Tuareg and Moor 10%, other 5%

What is now the modern country of Mali was  once part of  three Western African empires: Ghana, Mali  and Songhay. Mali fell under French colonial rule in 1892.

The Timbuktu Region is one of the eight administrative regions of Mali.

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Recent history

The Central Intelligence Agency

The Sudanese Republic and Senegal became independent of France in 1960 as the Mali Federation.

When Senegal withdrew after only a few months, what formerly made up the Sudanese Republic was renamed Mali. Rule by dictatorship was brought to a close in 1991 by a military coup that ushered in a period of democratic rule. President Alpha Konare won Mali’s first two democratic presidential elections in 1992 and 1997. In keeping with Mali’s two-term constitutional limit, he stepped down in 2002 and was succeeded by Amadou Toure, who was elected to a 2nd term in 2007 elections that were widely judged to be free and fair.

Malian returnees from Libya in 2011 exacerbated tensions in northern Mali and Tuareg ethnic militias started a rebellion in January 2012. Low-mid level soldiers, frustrated with the poor handling of the rebellion overthrew Toure on 22 March.

Coup leader Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo and his junta under the mediation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) returned power to a civilian administration in April 2012 with the appointment of interim President Dioncounda Traore.

Interim Prime Minister Chieck Modibo Diarra immediately appointed a unity cabinet. The post-coup chaos led to rebels expelling the Malian military from the three northern regions of the country, which remain under the control of a Tuareg militia, Ansar al-Din, and its terrorist group allies. Hundreds of thousands of northern Malians fled the violence to southern Mali and neighboring countries, exacerbating regional food insecurity in host communities.

Traore  was attacked by an angry mob in May and spent two months recovering in Paris, he returned in July 2012.

Traore and Diarra announced a 2nd unity government in August 2012 and in September 2012 called upon the international community to assist them in reclaiming land lost to rebels.

Sanogo forced Diarra to resign in December 2012 and Django Cissoko immediately replaced him and announced a 3rd unity cabinet.

The interim government is working with ECOWAS to organize negotiations with Tuareg rebels and the international community to plan a military intervention to retake the three northern regions.

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Video: BBC- African history- The Lost Libraries of Timbuktu
Reading in writing in Africa was just as important as it was in Europe

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