News / Africa

French, Mali Troops Cautiously Advance Against Islamists

A French soldier is reflected in the mirror of a military jeep in Niono, Mali, January 20, 2013.
A French soldier is reflected in the mirror of a military jeep in Niono, Mali, January 20, 2013.
Anne Look
French and Malian ground forces continue their cautious push north, as the counteroffensive against al-Qaida-linked Islamist rebels in the north enters its second week.   
 
Islamist rebels appear to have left the town of Diabaly, in Mali's middle belt, less than a week after they seized it as part of a bold southern offensive that brought the French airpower and ground troops into the fight alongside the Malian army. 
 
Still, forces patrolling the area say they are proceeding with caution. 
 
Foreign Troop Commitments to Mali

  • France 2,000 on the ground, 500 more committed
  • Chad to send 2,000
  • Nigeria to send 1,200
  • Benin to send 650
  • Burkina Faso, Niger, Senegal, Togo have committed 500 each
  • Guinea and Ghana are also sending troops
  •  
A French military officer told journalists Sunday that the situation in Diabaly remains unclear. He said the rebels are a very mobile and formidable enemy. 
 
Malian colonel Seibou Sogoba said the Islamists could be trying to blend in with the local population.
 
He says war against Islamists is so difficult because they come and begin to mix with the population and then, little by little, certain parts of the population will adhere to their cause. 
 
Al-Qaida-linked Islamist militant groups seized control of northern Mali in April, on the heels of a military coup in the south that further weakened the Malian army.
 
The Islamists began their surprise offensive southward on January 9, seizing the town of Konna, just 70 kilometers north of the government stronghold at Sevare.  French ground troops are now in Sevare alongside the Malian army, protecting its strategically important airport.
 
The Malian army has since retaken Konna but says that it is still conducting thorough searches to fully secure the town. 
 
The counteroffensive has sparked concern about reprisal attacks against civilians belonging to the lighter-skinned Arab and Tuareg communities of the north, who might be seen as supporters of the rebels. 
 
Human Rights Watch said Saturday that it has received "credible reports about serious abuses committed by members of the Malian security forces against civilians, notably Tuaregs and Arabs, in and around the area of Niono," which is near Diabaly.  HRW said those abuses included a few killings. 
 
Mali's military spokesman told VOA he was not aware of any such reports. 

View a photo gallery by VOA's Idrissa Fall in Mali
 
The Al-Carama Alliance of Arab Communities in Mali held a press conference in Bamako Sunday to call for national solidarity. 
 
The alliance president, Mohamed Mahmoud El-Oumrany, says victory should not be sullied by unnecessary errors or acts of revenge that bring nothing to the war effort, and instead will just cast a shadow over the victory and make it harder to live together tomorrow. 
 
Senegalese soldiers began arriving in Bamako Sunday as part of a slowly building regional intervention force intended to fight alongside Malian and French troops. 
 
Mali's interim president, Diouncounda Traore, addressed the nation Sunday on the occasion of the 52nd anniversary of the creation of the army. 
 
He called on Malians to stand united in their support of the army and to help soldiers in any way possible. He said this will likely be a "costly and exhausting" war, but also a necessary one to protect regional and global security. 

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Comments
     
by: musawi melake from: '
January 21, 2013 3:43 AM
"colonel Seibou Sogoba says war against Islamists is so difficult because they come and begin to mix with the population and then, little by little, certain parts of the population will adhere to their cause".
This is the classical people force isn't it? If people can adhere to ones cause, then it should mean it's people friendly, although it's been portrayed as evil by interested parties, neo-colonialists.There needs to be some reforms on the part of the rebels, be they be in Mali, Somalia or elsewhere, for the fundamentals are that these fighter want to getrid of foreign influence and exploitation, but by choosing a hardline islamic code, they lose many supporters among the population. If the cause is in deed evil, then there shouldn't be any difficulty for the Malian army to dislodge them and alienate from the people, but on the contrary, it's the foreign backed MAlian army that's struggling to cope. Events speak for themselves!
In Response

by: umaru ibn amankwa from: london
January 21, 2013 3:29 PM
The reason why people in diably would support them is a few. Firstly the jihadist have connections to the town where they have been promoting their brand for a while, that is most likely why they fled there in the first place.Second muslims in their heart love the prophet(saw) and his sunnah. These 'jihadists' apparently take up the mantle of islam and sunnah and astound the muslims by their outward appearance as Allah says " And when you see them, their forms please you, and if they speak, you listen to their speech. [They are] as if they were pieces of wood propped up - they think that every shout is against them..." In reality they run drugs, kidnapp and ransome, attack and kill innocent people all things which are against shariah.

by: beancube from: Seattle WA
January 20, 2013 5:38 PM
Be very very careful, we are paying for another huge death tolls without permission to know any details of the operations and how local people's general opinions. Our military doesn't expect we will care about their war criminal behaviors that will provoke the local population but drag us into another long, long and expensive military operation overseas.
In Response

by: mike tillman from: tenn.usa
January 21, 2013 12:04 PM
need to give the people what they need or wnt...clean water,food health care. good government and they will shed thes islamists on their own. let it be known no to neocolinist behavior and the reason why french are there andd to leave and turn it over to mali forces asap'
In Response

by: Rocksaldt from: USA
January 20, 2013 10:30 PM
Well-put. As for the local people's general opinions, there have been surveys conducted of people still living in their towns/cities/villages which are generally favorable of the intervention. However, no surveys have been conducted among those who have either fled since 1/11 or are caught in the crossfire at present. According to my friends who work for the UN, Tuareg refugees are generally terrified of the intervention...

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