Both Malian security officials and Ansar Dine’s spokesman have confirmed that foreign fighters are continuing to travel to northern Mali, where al Qaeda-linked jihadists from the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJOA), Ansar Dine, and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb have been in control since February. From Magharebia (which has done an excellent job of covering the conflict in Mali):
Foreign fighters have begun arriving in Mali, but these are not the long-awaited African military forces come to liberate the country from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the MUJAO and Ansar al-Din.
“Hundreds of jihadists, mostly Sudanese and Sahrawis [Africans from Western Sahara], have arrived as reinforcements to face an offensive by Malian forces and their allies,” AFP quoted a Malian security source as saying on Tuesday (October 22nd).
“They are armed and explained that they had come to help their Muslim brothers against the infidels,” a Timbuktu resident said.
Sanad Ould Bouamama, official spokesperson for Ansar al-Din, says, “The arrival of hundreds of young mujahideen from different areas across the Islamic world to support us in our war against the infidels and crusaders is not strange or surprising.”
“The same thing happened in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Chechnya, Somalia and Iraq,” the Ansar al-Din official tells Magharebia.
Ould Bouamama adds, “The war that the world is planning to wage against us is a war against Islam and all that is related to Islam. Its goal is to combat God’s Sharia, and therefore, all mujahideen have to stand by our side.”
One month ago, AFP reported that foreign jihadists from West African countries such as Togo, Benin, Niger, Nigeria, Guinea, Senegal, and the Ivory Coast, as well as Egyptians, Algerians, and Pakistanis, have been filling out the ranks of the three main jihadist groups in Mali. Additionally, at least two training camps have been established in Gao, the largest city in northern Mali [see Threat Matrix report, West African jihadists flock to northern Mali].
Meanwhile, the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States, and the US are still trying to figure out how to deal with the deteriorating security situation in northern Mali. All indications are that no military action will occur until sometime in 2013. And the African Union has indicated that it “will leave the door of dialogue open to those Malian rebel groups willing to negotiate.”
Once the international community decides to take action, the jihadists in northern Mali don’t stand a chance of holding territory in the long run (see Somalia and Yemen for recent examples of jihadist groups’ abilities to stand up to organized armies over time, but also note that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Shabaab still control territory in rural areas of Yemen and Somalia, respectively, and are still able to conduct organized attacks).
A significant threat that is being ignored, however, is that the delay in taking action in northern Mail has given the jihadists an opportunity to indoctrinate, train, and organize recruits from the West African nations, and then send them home to establish networks there.