Malian jihadists advance southward

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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.

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:

    The fact that the Malian Salafis are using armoured vehicles is not good news, it means they have the logistical capability to maintain them and personel who understand how to operate them. I would imagine the ammunition and spare parts supplies they have for the heavy weapons they are operating are rather limited but that all depends on what the MNLA didn’t haul away with them when they fled after the Salafi offensive last year. Of course the Malian military has its own logistical problems as well. The level of parity between the military power of the Salafists and the Malian military is much closer than in similar conflicts in Yemen and Pakistan. The Malian airforce is in complete shambles, and the limited number of tanks the army uses (mostly t-55’s and T-34’s) are severely obsolete can be defeated by weapons expeccted to be in use by the Salafists. I would expect that if the Salafis manage to take Mopti then the Malian military will be routed and would fall back to a last bastion of defense near Bamako where there are small numbers of French and American advisers. If Mopti falls the pressure for the west to intervene would become so great that they would be forced to act in some form or another (most likely airstrikes).

  • Will Fenwick says:

    From what photos i’ve seen it looks like the armoured vehicles the salafis are operating are BTR 60’s or 70’s
    They typically arn’t equipped any weapons heavier than machine guns, but they provide a significant advantage over the technicals that these groups usually operate.
    Heres a photo of a BTR under control of MOWJA in Gao

  • mike merlo says:

    Ansar Dine & al Qaeda have obviously determined they’ve reached the necessary critical mass to expand upon which they’ve consolidated. This could have easily been prevented if the International Community would have responded when the Land Pirates first started showing up.

  • blert says:

    If the APCs are truly captured from Mali’s armory…
    Then Fabian tactics would seem in order…
    At least for the APC spearhead.
    This must mean that all (mechanized) military stocks must be promptly concentrated in one bastion — the capital.
    No POL should be permitted to pass inland. All such existing stocks must be run down, drawn off, or destroyed ASAP.
    Suicide-shock troops are otherwise just too difficult to stop.
    The Winter is the only campaign season thereabouts.
    Some drone strikes against captured APCs would seem in order.
    VBIEDs are right down the road — in Mali.

  • ayamo says:

    This recent development in Mali is very troubling, imho. It was foolish to think that the Islamistic forces would stop their expansion after expelling the Tuareg from control there.
    Which brings me to another question: The Tuareg rebels had the advantage of knowing the desert, while reports are saying that the bulk of the forces of the jihadists are consisting of foreign fighters and other African forces – they shouldn’t know the desert/region as well as the Tuareg, non?
    I think it would take relatively(!) little effort to stop their advance: Send the Foreign Legion there to a strategic point, they have the capability of beating the jihadists back and then focus on drone strikes.
    The Malian armed forces may not posess the same superior firepower that the Yemeni army claims over their al Qaeda foes, but with some help, they should do …

  • ayamo says:

    The French Government confirmed that 20-30 of it’s soldiers are supporting the Malian forces in their effort to stop the jihadists’ advance, especially towards Mopti.


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