When the French took the giant step to help the Malian army flush out the Islamist militants from northern Mali, this blog lauded the endeavour. However, when the French announced their early departure after the capture of major towns, it was palpable that it wasn’t going to be long before the militants are back in town fighting.
With aerial support the French ground troops or infantry alongside the Malians and other African allies rumbled into most of the key towns like Gao , Kidal and Timbuktu with little or no resistance. Although some heavy weaponry were recovered and destroyed, the Islamic Jihadists were nowhere to been seen. Their unpredictable extraction might have been tactical since it was warning sign that the real battle is yet to be fought. Before the inhabitants of Gao and those of Timbuktu could finish waving the French tricolour flag to salute France’s timely intervention gun firing could be heard in the outskirts – announcing the comeback of the insurgents.
In times of war, victory is never celebrated until the war is over. A war is only over when the aggressors are captured or killed. In Malian situation there was virtually nothing to celebrate when the militants were still on the run. Lessons learned from Afghanistan under the Taliban and Iraq under Saddam Hussein, shown that the crumble of a regime does not mean the war is won or over. If that lesson is true, therefore, the Islamist militants with some believed to be linked with the Al-Qaeda, are trying to apply the same tactic in Mali.
As mentioned by Kofi Annan the former secretary general of the United Nations, it was the French who actually armed the militant through huge sum of ransom paid for the release of French citizen taken hostage. Today, the French are trying to defeat the very militant they helped to arm. Again as Kofi Annan pointed out in one of his interviews it is easy to chase the militants, but the question that remained unanswered is where are these insurgents heading to since they do not belong to a particular country? The Jihadists fighting in northern Mali are said to come from different countries with some of them actually fighting in the war of liberation in Libya that saw the end of Gaddafi and the birth of a new Libya. After Libya, the Separatist Tuareg led an offense against the government of Bamako for being marginalized and thus offered the Jihadists somewhere to live and fight. That is to say unless, these Jihadists find another conflict to fight and put their cause, that of defending Allah and the spread of extremist Sharia rule, northern Mali will remain their stronghold, which they are ready to scarify their lives to secure.
The conflict gets complex
While the French are planning to leave Mali next month having done the essential, chasing out the Islamic jihadists, the war has taken a completely different twist now. The main Tuareg group, Azawad National Liberation Movement, MNLA has now teamed up with the French to fight the Jihadists who originally came in to back them carry their campaign to take over northern Mali and declare it an independent state. Angered by the alliance with the French the other Islamic groups are now targeting MNLA fighters alongside the French and its African allies – Chad, Burkina Faso and Niger. These under-pressure Islamist groups, which some are still holding French citizen kidnapped are now using guerrilla war tactics to fight back their enemies. With the use of suicide bombers and vehicles packed with explosive in addition to roadside bombs and landmines, Chadian forces were the first to suffer heavy casualties.
In an attempt to take the fight to one of the groups in a hideout in the mountains close to Mali frontiers with Algeria, 13 fighters were killed. As the conflict enters the complex phase more casualties should be expected, especially if the French decides to leave next month, and the African forces with just basic training and equipment are left to continue the fighting. Although, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni declared in a BBC interview that African forces should be capable of defending their nations little did he know that modern warfare has become so complex that more technology and logistic are needed than mere manpower. Museveni even forgot to mention that the Ugandan army has been unable to defeat the LRA, the Lord Resistant Army that has continued to terrorize the populations in northern Uganda, DR Congo and the Central Africa Republic. African forces still need time, training and technology to be able to fight these Islamist militants who are heavy armed and operate a complicated, underground network of recruitment and training with funding from abroad.