The rebellion continues in northern Mali. The Tuareg-led separatist National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA, where “Azawad” refers to the regions of Kidal, Gao, and Timbuktu in northern Mali) and the Islamist group Ansar Dine (Arabic: Ansar al Din, “Defenders of the Faith”) recently announced an alliance (Aray al Mostenir says it has the text of the agreement here, in Arabic). In addition to the nervousness caused by the trajectory of the rebellion as a whole, Ansar Dine’s apparent alliance with Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is worrying Mali’s neighbors.
Mauritania seems ready to react militarily. Magharebia reports that Mauritanian troops are drilling near the border with Mali:
Mauritania held extensive military exercises last week outside the city of Bassiknou, located along the Malian border.
The operations were part of efforts to step up border surveillance and prevent the infiltration of terrorists and smugglers, Mauritania’s Aray al-Mostenir reported May 22nd, noting that the country’s security forces were placed on high alert.
The website stated that a heavy artillery bombardment could be heard outside Bassiknou for two days. Meanwhile, military aircraft carried out sorties over the area and bombed virtual moving targets as part of a training drill supervised by French experts.
The Mauritanian army conducted reconnaissance sorties over the Wagadou Forest and the area where most of the past armed confrontations with al-Qaeda and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa took place.
I could not locate the original article from Aray al Mostenir, but you can view a map of Bassiknou here.
Mauritania is undoubtedly concerned about defending its own territory, where AQIM has periodically conducted raids, kidnappings, and bombings since 2005. But it is possible that Mauritania is also considering taking the offensive. In 2010 and 2011, long before the rebellion began, Mauritanian forces entered Mali several times hunting AQIM: in September 2010 (Arabic), in the Timbuktu region; in June 2011, when they reportedly raided an AQIM base in the Wagadou Forest (more here); and in October 2011, when they launched an air raid on the Wagadou Forest. If readers are aware of other Mauritanian operations in Mali, please let us know in the comments. In any case, it is worth paying attention to this show of force from the Mauritanian army.