According to Reuters, French forces continuing their operations against al Qaeda in the north of Mali have found “tons of weapons” stockpiled across the region. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said: “What struck me most was the scale of the arsenals that we have discovered in the north and in the region of Gao.” A Malian official characterized it as enough weapons for an army.
French forces also discovered “a small army of jihadists” from around the world in the isolated Ametetai valley, Reuters reported. Found with them were arms caches containing heavy weapons, material for improvised explosive devices, and suicide bomb belts. “The Islamist rebels, many of whom have flooded in from abroad, had been well armed and hoped to make the impoverished, arid nation a terrorist sanctuary,” Le Drian stated.
Al Qaeda planned to turn the region into a base for international terrorist operations, he concluded. “There was certainly the desire to make it a base for international actions.”
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s emir, Abdelmalek Droukdel, said as much in a lengthy document that was found in Timbuktu last month.
It would appear that reports of al Qaeda’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.
French forces continue to clear the region. They hope to complete their operations in April and then hand over the area to an 8,000-strong African peacekeeping force. “We are 70 percent there … but we must do 100 percent,” Le Drian said yesterday. “The mission given to our forces by the President of the Republic is to succeed in liberating all Malian territory … so there will be more combat.”