Ber, Mali

On Monday and Tuesday, Malian and Burkinabe soldiers moved into the village of Ber (map), in the Timbuktu region. AP calls Ber “a focal point in recent weeks of fighting between two of Mali’s ethnic minorities — Tuaregs and Arabs.”* RFI (French) has more detail on Tuareg-Arab clashes in Ber, or more specifically, clashes between the Movement of Arabs of Azawad (MAA) and the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA). An MAA commander (French) has stated that Arab forces forces in Ber, however, did not act on the MAA’s orders. Whatever the case, residents reportedly called on troops to pacify the village. Troops have since made a number of arrests – in one account (Arabic), these arrests targeted Arabs and raised fears in the Arab community that a “wave of new arrests” of Arabs would follow.

Events in Ber highlight, first of all, the uncertainties surrounding information coming out of northern Mali (what happened? who made decisions? who acted in whose name?) and the narratives that compete for the spotlight. These events also call attention to community-level conflicts elsewhere in northern Mali (see this article, in French, on intra-Arab fighting in Anefis, north of Gao). In my view, if you combine Tuaregs’ and Arabs’ widespread fear of communal violence, the actual occurrence of communal violence, and the competing narratives that emerge from violence, you create conditions for (adding to) long-lasting grievances and mistrust in these communities. Reported abuses by Malian soldiers against Peul, Tuaregs, and Arabs further exacerbate fear and anger.

*It’s worth mentioning that Oumar Ould Hamaha, a commander within the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, is an Arab from Ber.

Mali: Jihadist Wives

Read the news out of Mali and you will hear almost exclusively about men. That’s one reason I was struck by this (ultimately somewhat thin) article from France 24. Another is the issue of how Islamist groups interacted with local communities in northern Mali. An excerpt:

FRANCE 24 met with the wife of a jihadist leader from the Gao region.

Mariam moved back to her mother’s house in this peaceful village near Gao, in northern Mali, when her husband left the area.

She won’t say her husband’s name, but everyone in town knows he is Abu Dardar, one of the most brutal and feared jihadist leaders in the region.

He saw Mariam in the market one day and decided he was going to marry her. He liked the way she was dressed. He hated women who wore shirts or dresses but she was veiled and already a devout Muslim. Mariam had become a radical when she married her first husband, whom she had three children with, before he abandoned her.

Slippery terms like “radical” hinder analysis more than they help in this case – what does it mean that she “became a radical”? – but the story gives a glimpse into how the Islamist coalition in northern Mali was partly localized.

I do not have much on Abu (also spelled Abou) Dardar. One Malian source (French) states that he is Algerian, as many senior leaders in the Islamist coalition are/were. After the Islamist coalition – Ansar al Din, Al Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) – gained control of northern Mali in the spring of last year, Abou Dardar appeared frequently in the press as a spokesman. Usually news sources identified him as a MUJWA leader, but sometimes as a leader of one of the other groups (this trend, which has appeared with press coverage of other leaders, suggests either fluidity of membership between these groups, or confusion in the media, or both). We find Abou Dardar speaking to the press after reported clashes between MUJWA and the separatist northern group the MNLA in November, after Islamists’ destruction of mausoleums in Timbuktu in December, after the French intervention began in January, and during continued combat in the far north in February.

If Abou Dardar is indeed Algerian, his marriage to this Malian woman may fit part of a broader pattern mentioned in sources like this 2010 analysis (French) by Le Figaro of how AQIM developed local ties in northern Mali. Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the former AQIM commander reportedly killed this month, was one AQIM leader who allegedly married a Malian woman (from Timbuktu, in this case). A Malian source quoted by Le Figaro called such marriages “a true social intermingling [which] offers real protection.”

The marriages also make defining “local” difficult in the context of the crisis in northern Mali. Some observers are quick to depict AQIM and MUJWA as “foreign” to Mali. But the ties these groups have developed in northern Malian communities, and the fact that some members of these groups are Malian nationals, points to a more complicated reality.

Portraits of Malian Refugee Camps in Niger, Mauritania, and Burkina Faso

Alongside armed conflict in northern Mali, Mali and its neighbors are experiencing a refugee crisis. I keep bringing this up in an effort to ensure that the scale of the crisis will not be ignored. UNHCR’s country pages for Mali and Mauritania show that massive numbers of people have been displaced: over 200,000 inside Mali, 70,000 Malian refugees in Mauritania, 50,000 in Niger, and 40,000 in Burkina Faso. Those numbers are all expected to rise by year’s end, to a total of approximately 540,000.

A few portraits from camps:

Niger:

The Mangaïze camp was officially created in May, following an influx of a large number of Malian families fleeing to Niger, said Idrissa Abou, a member of Niger’s National Commission for Refugees.
Besides a monthly food ration, refugees have access to drinking water from three small boreholes and primary health care. There are sanitation facilities with 250 showers and toilets, and a household waste management system. Refugees also have access to administrative services, a school and, with the opening of a police station, a security service.

“At the moment, there are 1,522 families, which amounts to a population of 6,037 mainly made up of Malian refugees, but there are also Nigerien returnees,” Abou told IPS, adding that an overwhelming majority of the refugees are from Ménaka, the closest Malian town to the Ouallam municipality in south-western Niger. He added that the numbers in the camp had increased in February after some 1,700 refugees from the nearby Bani Bangou camp were transferred to Mangaïze.

Mauritania:

Nearly 67,000 refugees—mainly women and children—have arrived in the border town of Fassala, Mauritania, since January 2012. “At the border crossing at Fassala, Mauritania, people are arriving thirsty and showing signs of fatigue,” explains Karl Nawezi, MSF project manager in Mauritania. After being registered by the authorities, refugees wait in a transit camp before being transferred to Mbera, a small, isolated village in the Mauritanian desert, just 30 kilometers [about 19 miles] from the Mali border.

The refugees in Mbera are totally dependent on humanitarian aid. An insufficient number of tents has been distributed, however. Families are assembled under large tents called “meeting points” that leave them exposed to the elements. Fed up with waiting, some construct their own makeshift shelters out of straw mats and pieces of fabric to protect themselves from sand and dust storms. “In Mauritania, as is the case elsewhere [in the Sahel refugee camps], people are suffering from diarrhea, respiratory infections, and skin infections because of the poor conditions in the camps,” says Nawezi.

And France24 has a video report from Burkina Faso here.

Quick Items: Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz on Mali, Goodluck Jonathan Visits Yobe and Borno [Updated]

Two noteworthy stories:

Mauritania and Mali

In a speech on Monday, Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz expressed greater openness than in the recent past to the idea of Mauritanian deployments in Mali. Mauritanian forces chased fighters from Al Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb into northern Mali at several points in 2010 and 2011, but during 2012 Abdel Aziz stated repeatedly that Mauritania would not intervene in Mali.

On Monday Abdel Aziz also emphasized his country’s role in “encircling [hardline Islamist fighters] in the north of Mali in order to enable Malian units to intervene and finish them off in their dens.” ANI (Arabic) has more on the speech.

Nigeria

On February 28, governors from an alliance of Nigerian opposition parties held a day-long conference in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, epicenter of the violent Boko Haram sect. The Nigerian newspaper Daily Trust commented, “the fact that the governors took the bull by the horns and held their meeting in Maiduguri, despite security reports that there may be attacks and blasts by suspected insurgents speak volume of their determination to give the [ruling] Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) a run for its money.”

Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan is set to visit the northeastern states of Yobe and Borno (where Maiduguri is the capital) today. One source says this visit “will be his first to the troubled states since his assumption of office.” Residents in Borno and Yobe interviewed by Leadership expressed a range of views about the visit, with some optimistic that Jonathan may use the moment to announce compensation programs or other initiatives, and others fearful that the visit will bring an even tighter security lockdown.

The Sultan of Sokoto, meanwhile, called on Jonathan this week to offer an amnesty to Boko Haram fighters. The Sultan said, “If there is amnesty declared we believe so many of those young men who have been tired of running and hiding will come out and embrace that amnesty.”

UPDATE: Reuters:

“I cannot talk about amnesty with Boko Haram now until they come out and show themselves,” Jonathan told reporters in Yobe state capital Damaturu, a town regularly hit by the sect’s guerrilla-style bomb and gun attacks.

See also Chike’s remarks in the comments section below.

Writings Elsewhere on Mali and Senegal

I’m going to prolong my break from blogging until March 1, but in the meantime I’ve written a few pieces on Mali and Senegal that may interest readers:

  • Al Jazeera Center for Studies (with my colleague Freedom C. Onuoha): “Franco-African Intervention in Mali & Security Issues.”
  • Stability: “The Disintegration of a ‘Model African Democracy’.”
  • World Politics Review: “Senegal’s Sall Must Turn Political Dominance into Effective Governance.”

Comments welcome. Feel free also to treat this as an open thread for recent news from the Sahel.

Mali: Guerrilla Attacks and the Possibility of Pockets of Support for Islamists [Updated]

Since being displaced from northern Malian cities by French and Malian troops, Islamist fighters have turned to guerrilla tactics. At least three tactics have emerged so far: (attempted) suicide bombings, raids, and landmines.

In Gao, this weekend saw two suicide bombings (one Friday and one Saturday) followed by what might be called a raid on Sunday:

In the first large-scale urban guerrilla assault of the conflict, rebels from the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) attacked Malian troops in the streets of central Gao, sending residents running for cover as Kalashnikov bullets and 14.5-millimetre rounds pierced the air.

Rocket-propelled grenade explosions and fire from heavy machine guns and light weapons resounded late into the afternoon before dying down in the evening, when a power cut plunged the city into darkness.

A French Tiger attack helicopter was circulating over the neighbourhood around the governor’s offices and the central police station, the focal points of the attack.

A Chadian source (French) with which I am unfamiliar, meanwhile, reports that another raid or ambush occurred around February 5, north of Kidal, in which gunmen attacked a Chadian contingent and killed twenty-four soldiers. I have not seen confirmation of this story elsewhere – the Chadian source says “this information has been carefully kept secret by Chadian and French authorities.” We’ll see if more details on this emerge. UPDATE: Commenters Andy Morgan and itsme_leclerc offer evidence suggesting strongly that the story is false.

Regarding landmines, fatal incidents have reportedly occurred in (1) Gossi (January 30, four Malian soldiers killed and five wounded), (2) along the road linking Kidal, Anefis and North Darane (around February 4, two civilians killed), and (3) between Douentza and Gao (February 6, four civilians killed). There may have been other incidents involving landmines too.

The emerging guerrilla war raises a number of questions, one of them being what support Islamist fighters have among northern communities. Al Akhbar (Arabic) mentions the hypothesis that yesterday’s raid on Gao may have involved “the entrance of some Islamists into the city by way of the river, with the help of some local residents.” One Malian commentator (French) writes, meanwhile, “In reality, in certain northern localities, one doesn’t know what support or what rejection these combatants might enjoy.” American analysts sometimes underestimate the support that Islamists possess on the ground in places like Mali, and images of celebration from liberated areas can give the impression that Malian populations unanimously delighted in the ouster of the Islamists. But the guerrilla phase of the conflict, assuming it continues, may hint at lingering pockets of support in Gao and elsewhere.

Feed People, Resettle Them, and Keep Them from Killing Each Other [Updated]

In addition to the nightmarish physical dangers that wartime brings, there is a conceptual danger that arises for people watching Mali at this moment: the danger of being swept up in a triumphalist narrative of good versus evil. It is one thing to know, in theory, that an American or Western European military can take territory rapidly from rebel groups; it is another to see, even from a distance, a display of Western military might unfold. To be shocked and awed by French bombs and soldiers reconquering in some eighteen days what some observers had thought might take months to do. To see the French sweep Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal without even seeming to break a sweat. It is one thing to know, in theory, that the early phases of military interventions like these often prove popular with both domestic constituencies and liberated populations; it is another to see French flags waving in Bamako, and President Francois Hollande receive a rockstar reception. There is a danger in a moment like this of falling prey to some kind of intoxication, and pretending there is no hangover to follow.

To their credit, many voices in the international media are sounding quite sober. One hears a drumbeat of stories about ethic tensions and violence in reconquered territories, particularly Timbuktu. I included several of these in my roundup on Saturday but others can be found here and here. In report after report, one reads of Tuaregs and Arabs fleeing their homes and abandoning their shops, afraid that they will be treated as Islamist sympathizers and hurt. One reads of Tuaregs and Arabs, even less lucky, who were caught and assaulted. At the same time one finds recurring allegations that Malian government soldiers have tortured or summarily executed captured Islamist fighters. Laudably, politicians like Sadou Harouna Diallo (French), the official mayor of Gao, have promised security to Arabs and Tuaregs if they return – but evidence suggests that such promises might prove hard to keep.

My fear is that actions today are sowing the seeds of conflicts tomorrow.  Historical memory – and northern Mali already has memories of ethnic violence – can play a central role in generating inter-communal violence and rebellion. What memories are being made now? If efforts at national reunification and reconstruction falter, bitterness among northern communities, combined with un-addressed grievances, could plunge Mali back into crisis a few years from now.

So I am afraid that a sense of triumphalism and a focus on preparing for elections will distract much-needed attention from the humanitarian needs of people affected by the conflict. My policy recommendations are simple to state, though I realize they would be less simple to carry out: focus on feeding people, resettling them, and keeping them from killing each other. I am thinking of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

I realize that many people, and for good reason, feel a sense of urgency concerning the question of what formal political arrangement Mali will establish now. What legitimacy the interim government of President Dioncounda Traore currently has will likely only diminish over time. And I realize that plans are already in motion for elections in July. But achieving a durable peace in Mali will take more than an election; it will require a durable solution to the economic and humanitarian problems of northern Mali. There is no better time to start working on those problems than the present. It is possible to address humanitarian concerns and prepare for elections at the same time; I am, moreover, recommending that those who make decisions and distribute money give priority to the former.

To give a numerical sense of the scale of humanitarian crisis in Mali, an estimated 380,000 people have already been displaced by the conflict. If I am reading this story correctly, the UN predicts that as many as 700,000 additional Malians could be displaced by the conflict. That would mean, for a country of around 16 million, that more than one in sixteen people would be displaced. The UN also says that “Over 4.6 million people in Mali are at risk of food insecurity as a result of climatic hazards and insecurity.” 4.6 million is approaching 1 in 3. This is a reminder that Mali would be in bad shape even if there had been no war. And the war, adding tragedy to tragedy, has compounded the food crisis.

As Peter Tinti has written, applying narrow counter-terrorism paradigms to the situation in Mali is a mistake. He warns, “Any intervention not delicately calibrated to local socio-political dynamics risks exacerbating the crisis, undermining the very goals policymakers aim to achieve.”

I agree with him. And what I have written here does not even begin to get at the question of what formal political arrangements might evolve in each locality. But I would submit that addressing the immediate needs of the victims of this conflict – their needs for food, shelter, and security – is one indispensable building block of any policy with a hope of success.

UPDATE:

Tres Thomas makes an excellent point in the comments. In addition to humanitarian concerns, there is also a need for political reconciliation:

One thing that is not talked about [in the post] is the need for reconciliation between all communities–not just between Tuaregs and the Malian government. Locals are calling for it, but countries like Switzerland and France are basically pushing MNLA-Govt negotiations before anything else. I think this artificially inflates MNLA’s influence and further exacerbates relationships between communities. There are so many past and present factors that are inflaming tensions that any peace process that excludes all these key players will be tough to watch–given the prominent locals who WANT reconciliation but haven’t given a platform to speak with their counterparts in a open, safe forum.

I agree fully. Talk to everyone.

French and Malian Forces Complete Conquest of Three Major Northern Cities

The French intervention in northern Mali has progressed rapidly. I hope to write more next week about medium- and long-term political and security challenges in Mali, but for now I want to record some dates and specifics, since I imagine I and others will be referring back to this period frequently in the months to come. So here’s a brief timeline of which Islamist-held cities in northern Mali fell to French and Malian governmental forces when. My focus is on the northern provincial capitals of Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal but I’ve included other towns and cities as well.

  • January 11: Operation Serval begins with French airstrikes
  • January 14: By this date, airstrikes have occurred in Konna, Lere, Douentza, Agharous Kayoune, and Gao
  • January 16: French ground operations begin
  • January 18: Konna recaptured (some sources say Malian troops retook the town on January 12)
  • January 21: Diabaly recaptured (some sources also list January 18 as the date of the recapture of Diabaly)
  • January 21: French and Malian forces enter Douentza
  • January 24: Hombori captured; air raids on Ansongo
  • January 26: Gao captured
  • January 28: Timbuktu airport captured
  • January 29: Timbuktu reconquered
  • January 30: Kidal captured

Al Jazeera details movements of African troops from yesterday:

A group of Chadian soldiers left their temporary base in Niamey on Wednesday, as their convoy rolled through the town of Gorou, Niger and towards the country’s northern border to enter Mali.

The troops are part of a larger African force known as AFISMA, which is due to send more than 8,000 soldiers to Mali to aid in the country’s fight against Islamist militants.

The bulk of the planned African intervention force for Mali is still struggling to get into the country, hampered by shortages of kit and supplies and lack of airlift capacity.

Around 2,000 AFISMA troops are already on the ground to fight the Islamists, who have retreated to the rugged northeast mountains of the Adrar des Ifoghas range on the border with Algeria.

Looking at the timeline, the rapidity of the French/Malian advance is striking though not surprising. But with the first phase of the reconquest (retaking the provincial capitals and other towns) seemingly almost complete, and France already looking for the exits, the medium-term security questions and political challenges are starting to loom large.

Libya and Mali, Part I

Nine months ago, I wrote a piece titled “NATO’s Intervention in Libya Was a Mistake.” As the French-led intervention in Mali continues, Libya is once again on people’s minds. People ask what relevance the precedent of intervention in Libya has for Mali, and what connections there are between the intervention in Libya and the ongoing crises in Mali.

With regard to the latter question, one often hears two opposed viewpoints: either “Libya’s civil war and the ensuing intervention caused Mali’s crises” or “Libya’s civil war and the ensuing intervention did not cause Mali’s crises.” I think the debate is a false one: I think that the crises in Mali have multiple causes, of which Libya is an important one, but only one.

As Aaron Bady eloquently explains here in a different context, sometimes people ostensibly participating in a shared conversation actually want to have different kinds of conversations. The conversation some analysts want to have runs, “The causes of Mali’s crises are too complex to be reduced to fallout from Libya.” I agree with them in a limited sense, but I think the way some analysts make that argument has two political effects, intended or not. First, this argument can imply that fallout from Libya had a negligible role in Mali’s crises. I disagree with that view. Second, making this argument can allow a speaker to sidestep the question of whether policymakers in Washington, Brussels, or elsewhere made the right decisions on Libya. Tackling this second question is the conversation that I really want to have. This post and a forthcoming sequel are my way of responding to arguments about Libya and Mali but also my way of attempting to broaden the terrain of the conversation to include an appraisal of concrete policy decisions.

This post is meant to serve a ground-clearing function: I want to state plainly that the main reason I feel that the intervention in Libya was a mistake is that I think it had a negative effect on Libya. I want to preclude the possibility of anyone reducing my arguments to “Thurston says Libya was bad because Mali.” Even if Libya was an island I would regard the decision to intervene there as a mistake.

Colonel Muammar Qadhafi’s treatment of his own people was deplorable. Yet the architects of the NATO intervention, framing their actions at times as a response to a perceived moral imperative to protect civilian life, planned poorly for the post-invasion period. A failure to soberly consider the possible unexpected consequences of intervention and transition has helped chaos to develop in post-Qadhafi Libya.

To my mind, the external intervention in Libya picked a winner in that country’s civil war. The intervention either picked the weaker of the two sides (this is my opinion) or accelerated a process whereby the rebels might have eventually defeated Qadhafi. In either case, the side that ultimately won the civil war – the National Transitional Council or NTC – was not prepared to unify the country politically and establish security and order. At present, the NTC’s successor organization the General National Congress does not effectively govern the country either.

The roots of political disunity and state weakness in Libya reach back into the period of Qadhafi’s rule (1969-2011) and before. As papers like this one describe, Qadhafi to some extent personalized the state while dismantling or undermining key political and social structures. The NTC does not deserve blame for all of Libya’s current problems, but I believe the intervention, by tipping the scales, put a body in “power” that cannot govern, especially in the short term.

Some observers have characterized the “new Libya” in optimistic terms. Libya’s July 7, 2012 national assembly elections met with Western acclaim for their relatively peaceful staging, their basically free and fair quality, and their results, namely an outcome where Islamists did not win.

But much news out of Libya is grim. There are a number of trends I could highlight, but two in particular are worth mentioning:

  • The persistence of armed militias, of whom there may be as many as 1,700: see here, here, here, and here for commentary and reporting on this issue. These militias challenge state control and security while contributing to violence and disorder. An article from December sums it up: “Almost two years after the start of the armed uprising that felled the regime, the militias that formed to fight Qaddafi show little sign of real integration into national security forces, and some are using their considerable clout to influence political and security decisions as a wobbly government takes its first steps.”
  • Assassination attempts against government officials, politicians, and security personnel: Defense Minister Mohammed al-Barghathi (January 20, 2013), Interim President of the General National Congress Muhammad al Maghariaf (January 6, 2013), Islamist leader Ahmed Abu Khattala (January 6, 2013), and police Colonel Mohammed Ben Haleem (October 13, 2012). There have also been assassination attempts against diplomats from Britain and Italy, and finally the tragic killing of US Amb. Chris Stevens and three other American diplomats in September 2012. I regard these episodes of targeted violence as both symptoms and causes of political instability in Libya. A government whose leaders routinely have brushes with death does not truly govern.

As a recent RAND Corporation report stated (.pdf, p. 3), “Security is the most immediate challenge today. Without it, progress in other areas will be stilted and likely fall apart…The attacks and ongoing violence since make it clear that Libya is not out of the woods yet. Even small numbers of moderately well-armed spoilers could push the country into a downward spiral of insecurity, recrimination, and violence.” International Crisis Group’s report “Divided We Stand” makes similar arguments while acknowledging the possibility of political progress.

Perhaps you interpret security challenges and other trends in Libya as “growing pains” for the new government. Perhaps you regard the present instability as an appropriate price to pay for ending the Qadhafi regime. Myself, I believe that tipping the balance in Libya’s civil war is one critical cause of the present instability, which has added to the tragedy that began with the civil war. I also fear that such instability will continue.

The conversation about whether the intervention in Libya was the right move or not could end there, could remain, so to speak, within the boundaries of Libya itself. But the conversation should not, I would say, end there. Later this week or early next week, we’ll talk about Libya and Mali.

Crises in Mali: Roundup of Reactions from the Region

News is coming fast out of the Sahel these days, so I may default to roundups many days this week rather than attempting cohesive analytical pieces. Today’s roundup is about Mali and the overlapping crises there, but indirectly: the links below discuss reactions, both verbal and physical, by a variety of actors in the surrounding region. Before we jump into regional news, though, one important resource on the situation inside Mali is AP’s timeline of the French intervention.

Regional

  • The Guardian with a regional map.
  • The Washington Post on the regional refugee crisis.
  • Al Jazeera on the January 19 Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) summit in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. More here, with details on the ECOWAS force, its leaders, etc. (The other key acronym to know is AFISMA or the African-led International Support Mission in Mali).
  • Liberte (French) on the upcoming African Union summit in Addis Ababa on January 29, and the question of funding for an ECOWAS force in Mali.
  • Troop movements/announcements/news: Senegal, Benin, Liberia, Nigeria, and Chad (French). Not a comprehensive list, of course.

Algeria

Yesterday, at a press conference on the recent hostage tragedy in In Amenas, Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal stated (French) that Algeria “will not send one soldier to Mali” and will concentrate on “protecting its borders and its territory.” Sellal added that Algeria “encourages dialogue among the different parties” in Mali.

Niger

This blog post (French), from a site with which I am not familiar, does a nice job laying out Niger’s attitudes toward the situation in Mali. Key points include Niger’s preference for securing Malian territorial integrity before holding elections, and Niger’s view that the situation in Mali is, for Niger, an internal security threat as well as a Malian problem. You can read an interview Foreign Minister Mohamed Bazoum gave to RFI here (French).

Mauritania

Al Bawaba depicts widespread opposition to the French operation in Mali, and to the possibility of Mauritanian military involvement there, among religious and political leaders in Mauritania. A coalition of three parties, however, supports intervention in Mali (Arabic, French). Mauritania has placed areas along its border with Mali under military control (French).

Nigeria

On January 19, gunmen attacked a Nigerian military unit in Okene, Kogi State, killing two and wounding five. The unit was preparing to deploy to Mali. The Nigerian military has blamed Boko Haram for the attack. Jama’a Ansar al Muslimin fi Bilad al Sudan (Arabic: The Society of Defenders of Muslims in the Land of the Blacks), a purported splinter group from Boko Haram, has claimed responsibility for the incident, saying that it was targeting the unit because of Nigeria’s involvement in the Mali intervention. IRIN (link above) has more on “JAMBS.” The group’s statement (which was issued in English, from what I can tell) is here.

Any other news? Please let us know in the comments.