Basic Reported Information on French Operations in Mali

This post attempts to sketch out basic information about the ongoing French military intervention in Mali. The rapid pace of events, starting with an attempt by the Islamist coalition that controls northern Mali to capture strategic areas in the Mopti region, has left observers struggling to distinguish between fact, spin, and falsehood. So some “facts” rest on shaky foundations. But here is what international and local media are saying:

French aircraft have reportedly bombarded at least five towns (map below) These include:

  1. Konna, a town in the Mopti region which Islamists reportedly took from Malian soldiers on January 10. By Saturday, Malian forces stated they had retaken the town.
  2. Lere, a town near the Mauritanian border which the Islamist group Ansar al Din captured from the ostensibly secular, Tuareg-led National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA) in late November (more here), and which may have been the site of a training camp (French);
  3. Douentza, which the Movement for Unity/Monotheism/Tawhid and Jihad (MUJWA) took in September from a local militia;
  4. Agharous Kayoune, about which I could find basically no information; and
  5. Gao, a MUJWA stronghold and one of three northern provincial capitals.

USA Today reports that over 400 French troops are in Mali. Britain and the United States are providing equipment and logistical support. The Washington Post puts the numbers at over 400 in Bamako, and some 150 in the Mopti region. That article adds, “Mirage aircraft currently involved in the operation have been flying from nearby French bases, including one in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, but some helicopters and other aircraft have been flying from a Malian air base at Sevare.”

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland took questions on Mali on Friday, and the British Foreign Office posted a roundup of official statements yesterday.

Different sources have also analyzed the perspectives of regional actors such as Algeria (French). Mauritanian activist Nasser Weddady wrote yesterday, “The view in Mauritania seems to be: ‘Dear France, good luck in Mali, keep us out of this mess. Thank you.”

Finally, here is a map showing four of the five towns reportedly bombed by French aircraft:


What is your perspective on all this?

17 thoughts on “Basic Reported Information on French Operations in Mali

  1. Pingback: Dos blogs de referencia escriben sobre la presente crisis en Malí | Flanco Sur

  2. I seriously doubt that the French air force, on its own, can provide sufficient firepower to allow the Mali forces to retake the north. Some articles looking at the Libyan campaign pointed out that while other NATO nations were pushing harder, it was U.S. forces and supplies that made it a success. However I can’t see the MUJWA making new pushes to the south either. It’ll be interesting to see what the separatists do now.

    Depending on what happens next it’s possible that the conflict will be, in a sense, ‘frozen’. ECOWAS probably doesn’t want to intervene and might take this as an excuse to avoid doing so. Mali is obviously in no shape to launch a counterattack for at least the next few years. The U.S. and U.K. might be providing logistical (and probably intelligence) support but it seems clear that NATO isn’t going to launch a major operation in Mali. If the militants in the north don’t collapse this conflict might go on for years or decades.

    And something I still wonder about. Does France have greater ease of intervening in former African colonies than the U.K. and other former colonial powers?

    • Libya is a completely different situation from Mali. Libya was a civil war in an industrialised, developed nation with a strong government that did not desire intervention.

      Mali on the other hand, is the sort of thing France has been doing for hundreds of years. They know the area, culture and politics very well. If they go in, they believe they can handle it, and in the case of sub-Saharan Africa, they are usually right. There is a reason most of those countries speak French and use the French African Franc as their currency.

    • > And something I still wonder about. Does France have greater ease of intervening in former African colonies than the U.K. and other former colonial powers?

      French strategy with their colonies is very different from UK. UK took the money, lived like Kings and ran. France retains its influence, at least in West Africa.

      France have a lot of influence and goodwill in the area. They have a good track record. They very recently “won” in Ivory Coast right next door (without any help from US-UK). The French armored column that just drove into Mali actually came from Ivory Coast, and they have Algeria on the other side, another country with a long and still current history of interaction with France. Plus the angry Tuaregs in Mali are guys the French know very well from Libya.

  3. It is being widely reported (for example: that Algeria has given permission for overflights by French planes (Rafale fighters). Algeria had been regarded as a reluctant-but-persuadable cooperator (not participant) in the projected ECOWAS intervention. That it gave immediate assent to the French overflight request indicates it is now “on board”.

  4. Doubtful on the part of Algeria as today? France had to fly the long distance route with its planes to stay out of Algeria airspace. Media reported that Mauritania wished France well. Leave us out of this mess. Thank you

    France is saying a lot but Niger is very quiet!

  5. The notion that the Islamists could take control of Bamako in a matter of days, in the words of French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, is a major oversell to justify Paris’s actions to its own public. However it also measures NATO’s trust in the Malian army – essentially zero to believe the Islamists could drive straight into a million+ city unopposed.

    That France won’t need extensive U.S. and U.K. support is also ungrounded. The latter two want to keep a lower profile, but given the way the Islamists are already reacting, it may be a short time before the first U.S. strikes are reported. Minimal willingness to inform the public of objectives, schedules and participants despite the mass of information being released.

    • Considering that the debate prior to this was mostly about when ECOWAS would intervene and what shape the intervention would ultimately take something certainly had NATO (or at least France) worried.

  6. Pingback: Basic Reported Information on French Operations in Mali Alex Thurston | sixhundredwings

  7. On my front page headliner in Yahoo (tailored to midwest USA) they are claiming “Al-Qaida carves out own country in Mali”. They say that the north has been dug out to “a size bigger than Afghanistan” with huge underground tunnels and caves big enough to drive trucks through. They say the Al-Qaida is promising “Mali will be bigger than Afghanistan!”.

    From what I have read on this blog, this news report sounds more like USA war-mongering propaganda than fact. They want an excuse to bomb northern Mali, and mentioning al-Qaida is their invitation to do so.

    What do you think?

    • Possibly, though I usually don’t consider Yahoo news exactly a reliable source. The New York Times is sticking to calling them ‘rebels’ and ‘insurgents’, no different from descriptions of the Taliban (which is far less of a concern to the average American).

      • Twitter: The Tuaregs (largely from Mali), loyal to Gaddafi and now driven out of Libya by NATO terror, are being targeted by NATO countries in Mali.
        From this interview at:
        The easiest way, if you want to go in like AFRICOM, the US African Command, the easiest way to clear an area or to go in with, shall we say, NATO forces or United States forces, the best excuse is to say there’s a terrorism problem and you’re going in as advisors and you’re helping other countries to clear out. Like in Northern Mali is Ansar Dine, they claim. These are the al-Qaeda affiliated or al-Qaeda linked or franchise.

        The real issue is the land the Tuaregs occupied traditionally for thousands of years. It just happens to be resource-rich; in this case, uranium and probably oil. So, they need to ethnically cleanse these areas. Same as south Sudan; they ethnically cleansed South Sudan and then blamed it on the north. In effect what’s happened is they’ve cleared the oil rich areas so these villagers couldn’t lay claim or deny them exploration rights. That’s what’s really happening.
        They will fight. The Tuaregs are not people who lay back. They’re armed. They will fight but they will be murdered. I believe they will be ethnically cleansed from the oil rich areas. cleansed from the oil rich areas. murdered. I believe they will be ethnically cleansed from the oil rich areas.

      • That’s a pretty interesting statement to make considering that the NATO forces were probably the most restrained and professional of all the combatants in Libya, not to mention that there wasn’t a single NATO force attacking anyone in Mali until days ago.

        And then there’s the baffling suggestion that this is being done for resources. Whoever you are, if the U.S. based its strategies purely around access to resources we wouldn’t have done anything to help the people in South Sudan politically. There was actually a time when we might have been able to repair ties to Sudan but we chose instead to press Sudan on South Sudan and the Darfur region. And why would the U.S. need to ‘cleanse’ these lands? It doesn’t matter to the U.S. who lives there.

        In other words, your logic lacks logic.

  8. Sorry, me again. Tonight, Central time USA on National Public Radio (approx 6:15 PM): USA concerned that Mali will turn into another Yemen (=exporters of terror) because of Al-Qaida influence. Fighters are intermarrying with local tribes, learning the land/geography from local people. Leon Panetta (US Secretary of Defense) concerned.
    -no mention of resources or Tuaregs ( unless those are the ‘locals’)

    French ministers interviewed, worried that the Jihadists will ‘strike back’ within France, they are on full alert. 68% of French people support airstrikes on Mali.

    What is going on?

  9. nmr,

    Nothing going on more than you see and no one understand. They manipulated this northern Mali stuff so much that they are themselves lost in it. No one has a clue, really. That what we were telling for years now. Read a good piece from Jeremy Keenan dated yesterday,15 January, but cannot share as it is copyrighted. Keenan said it all. Hope the French and other ECOWAS countries will manage to clean the Sahel of these nacro-islamists. The Malian army can’t do anything, despite all these millions spent on them through the Flintlock and other exercises while ATT was working with AQMI on drug traficking, hostage taking and allowing AQIM to rebuild in the Wagadou forest to attack a neighboring country. At te same time, Mali was getting some 60 million $ or euro in military assistance, despite they knew what ATT was doing. Proof: the air cocaine that was never investigated.

    Let’s hope for the best and people are tired of all this game.

  10. Pingback: French and Malian Forces Complete Conquest of Three Major Northern Cities | Sahel Blog

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