French troops intervene in Mali

Just two days after jihadists from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, and Ansar Dine stormed the central Malian town of Konna and routed government forces, the French government authorized its military to engage in combat against the al Qaeda-linked groups. French aircraft, including Mirage fighters and attack helicopters, have opened fire on jihadist columns that were advancing south on the towns of Mopti and Sevare. One French pilot was killed after his helicopter was “downed” during the fighting.

French troops are said to be arriving in force in Sevare, where a major airport is located. The Malian military claimed hundreds of jihadist fighters were killed in airstrikes and the town of Konna is no longer under enemy control. From The Associated Press:

French intelligence services had detected preparations for an important offensive organized and coordinated by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, known as AQIM, and its jihadist allies, Ansar Dine and MUJAO [Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa], against the towns of Mopti and Diabaly. After a large number of vehicles were spotted heading toward the strategic town on Thursday, France sent in its first unit to Sevare, a town adjacent to Mopti, to support the Malian combat forces, Le Drian said.

On Friday, French President Francois Hollande authorized the use of French air power following an appeal from Mali’s president. Soon after, French pilots targeted a column of jihadist fighters who were heading down toward Mopti from Konna. He said that the helicopter raid led to the destruction of several units of fighters and stopped their advance toward the city. It was in the course of this battle, that one helicopter was downed, and a French pilot fatally wounded.

Overnight Saturday, air strikes began in the areas where the fighters operate, Le Drian said, led by French forces in Chad, where France has Mirage 2000 and Mirage F1 fighter jets stationed.

The strikes destroyed vehicles in Konna, and a command post in the region. A contingent of French special forces arrived at the Bamako airport on Saturday afternoon in order to secure the capital, said Le Drian, where Islamists claim they have sleeper cells ready to carry out suicide bombings.

A spokesman for Ansar Dine told Reuters that French citizens will be targeted.

“There are consequences, not only for French hostages, but also for all French citizens, wherever they find themselves in the Muslim world,” Boumama said. “The hostages are facing death.”

In a sign of the times, the US has offered to send drones to support the operation, but will not otherwise get involved militarily.

The intervention has staved off the very real threat of the jihadist alliance seizing control of the entire country. If the town of Mopti falls, the terror groups would have an open path to the capital of Bamako. The Malian military has shown no capacity to halt the southward advance of the jihadists; Malian forces withered as AQIM, MUJAO, and Ansar Dine forces moved into Kanno.

The United Nations, the European Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and countries such as Algeria have dithered over getting involved in Mali, and weren’t considering sending forces to the West African nation until September 2013. AQIM, MUJAO, and Ansar Dine have forced their hand by advancing southward.

Also, the same day that France intervened in Mali, its commandos attempted to free Denis Allex, a French intelligence operative held for three years by Shabaab, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia. French officials were concerned that their involvement in Mali would lead to the execution of Allex. Shabaab repelled the raid and killed one French soldier and captured another.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Will Fenwick says:

    Vive la France!
    Thank goodness some world power knows its not acceptable to let the Salafists conquer a country.

  • freman says:

    North Mali
    South Mali
    North Soudan
    South Soudan
    North Korea
    South Korea
    North Morocoo
    Western Sahara Republic
    West Libya
    East Libya
    Noth Egypt
    South Egypt

  • Dominic W S Chan says:

    Same here viva le France.

  • ayamo says:

    It seems to be going relatively well … I guess that there isn’t much cover for hiding in the desert, so airstrikes and the likes are bound to have an impact on the jihadists’ capabilities to move around.
    Now the question is: Can the Malian armed forces, backed up by the French (and future allies?) claim the vast areas of the country back, that the jihadists and Tuaregs conquered?
    While we’re speaking of them: Where are they (the Tuareg rebels)? Wouldn’t it be their moment to strike now? I doubt they took their ousting well.

  • mike merlo says:

    no surprise here

  • kush dragon says:

    @ freman
    I totally agree.
    A lot of people don’t realize how many conflicts are caused by the artificial, colonial borders of the Middle East and Africa. Countries like the Congo are forced into existence when they are made up of ethnic groups that hate each other.
    I’d like to add a few:
    North Nigeria
    South Nigeria
    West Nigeria
    Iraq- Sunni and Shitte State
    Kurdistan (made up of northern Iraq, southeast Turkey, northern Syria)
    Waziristan (include parts of Afghanistan with similar culture like Nuristan)
    This isn’t a complete list by any means but it would certainly help some things I think.

  • blert says:

    We’re now reading that the heart of AQIM’s forces are exactly the same elite troops trained at great expense by the West — to stop AQIM.
    They’ve apparently, simply, defected — taking with them all of their hardware, too.
    The implication being that the American DoD had focused their efforts within the muslim community of Mali — which flipped sides once any Imam made a fatwa.
    In sum: it’s a complete fiasco — much, much worse than ever imagined — by the MSM.

  • EDDIED. says:

    I just heard on NBC news that France carried out numerous air strikes and the terrorist still advanced on the capital. What are you doing France? End their advance by ending them!!

  • James says:

    As I have said all along, to put down these thugs, it is going to take an international effort.
    We should be on the side of France in this. Like we should be doing in Syria, we should be helping them in any way we possibly can short of direct military involvement.
    We need to combine our intelligence capacities, whether it be with India or France or wherever it may be that legitimate governments are trying to reign in or defeat these thugs.

  • ayamo says:

    Huh? I’ve read that they had to retreat from Gao, Timbuktu and Kona. Yes, they managed to snatch a town 400km north of the capital, but the bulk of the advance seems to have been brought to a standstill.

  • Eric says:

    Since its the French, I have to fight the compulsion to make some wisecrack about them surrendering.
    The Tuaregs got their rebellion hijacked just like all the other islamic peoples before and since.
    There is some truth to the comment blert made about training guys who then joined the Ansar Dine.
    The jihadis are for the most part out in the open where they are easy to kill, and now is a good time to kill them.
    Germany is saying they will send medical aid, but that nothing can be done without negotiating with the jihadis.
    Really? Negotiate over what? How MUCH they hate everyone else?
    Germany!!!! Japan!!!! Snap out of it! Stop pretending you are Pacifist nations. It is NOT in your DNA. Be military democracies. Anything short of genocidal Imperialism will be OK with the rest of the world this time around. No kidding. You are invited to fight back against armed fundamentalists everywhere they infest another weak country, with the same ferocity you would express if they were in your own homeland – because they will be if they get their way.
    France should not be alone in the skies over Mali. I am kind of pissed that Obama is reading the tea leaves wrong on this one.
    ECOWAS gets it. They are already mobilizing.
    This fight could have waited until September, and would have netted even more jihadis, since they have been streaming into the camps all year. But the move on Mopti has forced our hand, so we should get down to it with gusto – all NATO allies, and ECOWAS should get EU mission assistance NOW.

  • ayamo says:

    The problem is not so much stopping the jihadists from advancing further south, or throwing them out of the major cities in the norht – it’s the aftermath, as it always has been.
    Despite all this brouhaha about them having top quality hardware and good training, they don’t have a prayer against the French/Malian/whatever forces, backed up by air strikes in open confrontation. So they’ll do what insurgents always did: Run, hide and attack whenever and wherever possible.
    Is France prepared to stay in Mali as long as they’ve been in Afghanistan? I recnogize that there are differences between the two countries, but the area is giant …
    @Bill: Is there a chance of Mali getting more of a “front row” seat on LWJ?

  • blert says:

    My earlier post, that the Muslim locals have flipped sides is now being restated by more and more media outlets.
    The Americans, going back years, had placed their bets on ‘pumping up’ the northern Mallians — i.e. the Muslims — the Tuaregs — to defeat Muslims.
    France is now stepping in Beau Geste style.
    The fighting is purely on religious orientation: AQIM has already swept the Muslim zone of Mali. (the northeast desert)
    Consequently the Christians and pagans in the southwest tropical zone are quaking in their boots.
    The average IQ of Malians is approximately 70 ish. (Crudely inferred by PISA test scores.) This is to be expected where prenatal nutrition is terrible — and where cousin marriage is rampant.
    (All by itself, chronic intermarriage pulls average IQ down by 15 to 20 points. Birth defects skyrocket. Consequently, such marriages are flatly illegal in the West — though still the norm in such tribal societies. In the Sahara, like backwoods Appalachia, it’s hard to find a spouse who’s NOT a blood relative.)
    So it’s VERY consequential that AQIM is bringing in fresh talent — in effect a foreign legion of junior officers and non-coms.
    The resulting combined force will be entirely unlike anything that the French have dealt with before.
    BTW, the film, Beau Geste dealt with exactly this dynamic: holding back the nomadic Tuaregs from the settled south.
    The Tuaregs have an ancient reputation for being as difficult as the Comanche and Apache. They’ve had a history of slave raiding and slave trading going back into the sands of time. This is why the Blacks (in the southwest) are terrified of the Arabs/Tuaregs. (in the northeast)
    It was this dynamic that caused the Sudanese civil war — and the subsequent creation of South Sudan.
    The islamist war is now expanding to engage virtually every front where Muslims meet non-Muslims.
    We may be seeing a repeat of the Hundred-Years War: a conflict that stays on the boil for generations on end.

  • sundoesntrise says:

    blert, I certainly hope you’re not somehow implying that the Great White Man needs to intervene in Mali because the black people there are dumb. Not trying to put words in your mouth, but you have been going off on rants for a few days now and it wouldn’t really surprise me if you meant even a little offense by it. The whole region is in vast desert swathes and the people there are not afforded the same opportunities as we are.

  • blert says:

    Please refrain from projecting your beliefs onto my comment; and taking readers off on a wild tangent.
    To make it crystal clear: France is expecting a continuation of past — lengthy — experiences.
    Instead, they’re going to face an almost complete break — every thing’s been reset.
    Starting with, apparently, the defection of the better part of the entire Malian Army — if the MSM is to be believed.
    Is it any wonder the provisional government of Mali has its hair on fire? Or that the adjacent nations are wary?
    Like Sudan, almost all of the nearby states have split demographics — with Muslims in the north/ desert and Blacks in the south/tropics. They’ve all had endless war at that margin going back into the sands of time — ages before the Europeans ever showed up.
    The Tuaregs are probably right: they need to be cut free of Mali — to form their own state. However, it’s taboo at the UN for post-WWII boundaries to change.
    Unfortunately, they’re also now allied with AQ, making their desires incidental to the course of WWIV. (WWIII was the Cold War.)
    The one thing that hasn’t changed is the Tuareg reputation for kidnapping/ capturing slaves/ taking hostages. (Algeria)
    (Traditionally, such captives are dead men walking.)
    You could do worse than re-watch Beau Geste — and see the absolute terror all felt at the mere prospect that the Tuareg could capture a man. It took centuries for that reputation to be built.
    When the very first trans-Sahara automobile races were attempted it was widely advertised that the participants had their life insurance canceled. (!) The Tuaregs were specifically mentioned as the reason.
    Slave trading in that part of the world goes at least as far back as the Roman Empire. (Gladiators, anyone?) If Roman accounts are accurate, it was these desert traders who supplied the circus with lions, elephants and all the rest.
    (Incredibly, there is still a herd of elephants in the Sahel. It’s, famously, the most paranoid set of elephants on the planet. The odds are overwhelming that this herd was the source of the ‘Roman’ elephants — and probably those of Hannibal, too. All other African elephants are impossibly far away.)

  • anzaholyman says:

    The west should be happy that these Jihadist movements love the open desert, our tactical advantage will last for many decades. As long as we have the balls to put the lazer where it needs to go.


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