Malian jihadists advance southward
Ansar Dine and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb are breaking out from the boonies of northern Mali and are beginning to expand into areas in the central part of the country. According to Magharebia, the two groups attacked a Malian Army military unit at the international airport in Savare, just east of Mopti. The Ansar Dine forces are said to be led by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Twelve Malian soldiers are reported to have been captured. Mopti is about 350 miles from Bamako, the capital of Mali.
Ansar Dine forces are also reported to have been spotted in the town of Konna and the village of Bourei. The jihadists arrived in Bourei "aboard all-terrain vehicles and even armored vehicles that they have stolen from the Malian military," a Malian told The Associated Press.
Last week, Ansar Dine suspended its "ceasefire" with the Malian government (Ansar Dine never honored the ceasefire to begin with), and began deploying forces to take Bourei.
Meanwhile, the al Qaeda-linked Movement for Tawhid [Unity] and Jihad in West Africa, which controls Gao, announced the creation of the Abdullah Azzam, Al Zarqawi, and the Abu al Laith al Libi battalions, as well as the Martyrdom-Seekers Battalion. These battalions join the previously established Osama bin Laden Battalion.
As the Islamist alliance advances southward, the international community continues to sit on its hands. In mid-December, the UN approved the formation of an African military force called the African-led International Support Mission in Mali, or AFISMA, to retake northern Mali from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and allied Islamist groups. But the AFISMA force of about 3,300 troops is not expected to deploy until sometime in September 2013, and funding for AFISMA has not been established.
Updated Jan. 10:
The Islamist have now seized control of Konna. The Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa also is involved in the southward advance, as its spokesman announced the capture of Konna. A US aid group has been ordered to evacuate Mopti and Savare, which are now under direct threat as MUJAO has said it is advancing there next, and townspeople are said to be in a state of panic.