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Mike Blais

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Mali - Canada // Political - Military Status/updates.
« on: January 01, 2013, 07:16:28 PM »
New York Times

December 30, 2012
No Easy Answers in Mali

The extremist Islamist militias that seized control of northern Mali in April have imposed their fanatical beliefs and barbaric punishments on the region’s defenseless people, sending tens of thousands of refugees fleeing into neighboring Mauritania. And they have given sanctuary to notorious terrorist groups like Nigeria’s Boko Haram and Algeria’s Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, a group that Washington suspects may have been involved in the September attack on the American consulate in Libya.

Neighboring countries are understandably eager to help Mali’s army expel these militias. This month, the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved a resolution supporting an African-led military force of 3,300 to begin preparing for that mission. But there are formidable obstacles, the biggest being the political ambitions and military ineffectiveness of Mali’s army.

Army officers opened the door to the extremists in March by overthrowing the democratically elected government. They claimed the government was not letting them wage an effective fight against the Libyan-armed Tuareg rebels who streamed into northern Mali after the overthrow of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

But following the military coup, first the Tuareg rebels and then the Islamist militias easily took over Mali’s desert north, a region the size of France. International pressure forced the soldiers to install a civilian-led government in April. But the army, which has been accused of engaging in torture and sexual abuse of detainees, retains real power, and Mali’s institutions remain shattered.

Yet it is this army and this figurehead government that the United Nations now counts on to retake the north. The African-led force that is supposed to train the Malians is experienced mainly in peacekeeping, not actual combat. That might mean drawing in American and European military trainers.

The resolution also calls for contributions to finance the operation, estimated to cost more than $200 million a year, though it is unclear which nations would be willing to pay. Washington played a useful role in the Security Council deliberations by insisting on an initial period of planning and attention to human rights concerns before any military action takes place.

The transformation of northern Mali into a sanctuary for terrorists and the subjection of its people to medieval cruelties are a threat to the entire West African region. But even with the Security Council vote, it seems unrealistic to expect an effective solution anytime soon.

Mike Blais

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MacKay warms to military mission to Mali
« Reply #1 on: January 01, 2013, 07:19:14 PM »

MacKay warms to military mission to Mali


HALIFAX and OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail

Published Sunday, Dec. 30 2012, 8:06 PM EST

Last updated Monday, Dec. 31 2012, 10:46 AM EST
Defence Minister Peter MacKay has opened the door to sending Canadian Forces personnel into the troubled West African nation of Mali, citing the contribution of Canadian military trainers in Afghanistan.

The remarks appeared to contradict Foreign Minister John Baird’s previous statements that no Canadian troops would be committed to Mali, where government forces are battling militant Islamist forces that hold much of the country’s arid north.
“We are contemplating what contribution Canada could make,” Mr. MacKay told reporters at CFB Halifax Sunday, where he announced a rent cap for some defence housing.

“Training is something that Canadian Forces are particularly adept at doing,” Mr. MacKay said. “We have demonstrated that repeatedly … throughout our history. But certainly the training mission in Afghanistan is testament to that commitment and that ability and is something that has garnered the admiration of recipient nations but other countries as well that emulate Canadian training techniques.”

Earlier this month, the UN Security Council voted to send 3,300 African troops to Mali to help rid the country of the Islamist extremists that have taken over the northern half of the country. But there is a caveat that any military intervention will not take place without Malian troops being properly trained. Any effort to take out the Islamists in the north would not likely happen before September or October.

Mr. Baird has repeatedly ruled out sending troops to Mali, including trainers. An official in his office confirmed that again Sunday.

“Canada is not contemplating a military mission in Mali,” said Rick Roth, press secretary to Mr. Baird.

He added, however, that the Canadian government is “deeply concerned with the ongoing security situation.”

“The return of democracy and territorial integrity remains our utmost concern,” he said.

“Canada applauds the December 20, 2012, passage of the United Nations Security Council resolution …,” Mr. Roth said in an e-mail, noting that the resolution authorized a one-year deployment of an African-led mission to help Mali in its “recovery of the areas occupied by terrorists.”

He added that “Canada stands ready with its international partners to assist the ECOWAS [the Economic Community of West African States], and the African Union in their efforts to resolve the crisis in Mali.”

Mr. MacKay would not say how many troops Canada could commit to a training mission in Mali. “It depends on what the ask might be,” he said.

He said that Canada is “regularly called upon when it comes to training missions like this because of the expertise and the quality of training that Canadian soldiers provide.”

Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan ended in July, 2011, but about 700 Canadian troops are still there on a training mission, stationed mostly in Kabul.

Walter Dorn, a professor of defence studies at Kingston‘s Royal Military College, advocated Canadian participation in what he said would be a “cutting-edge mission” involving counterinsurgency, arguing that Canadian personnel should provide planning, intelligence gathering, and equipment.

Prof. Dorn said this would be consistent with the UN resolution, and said that some training could be done outside Mali. He compared the context to the mission in Afghanistan: “If you don’t deal with Taliban now, they tend to come back to haunt us.”

The pressure is on the Harper government to help out, given that until a coup in March, Mali has been one of its biggest recipients of foreign aid. Criticized in the past by the opposition parties for not helping out in the region, it had Mali on its short list of “countries of focus” for foreign aid, giving it more than $100-million in annual support.

Mr. Baird condemned the coup at the time, demanding that the coup leaders respect democracy. The country had a democratically elected government since 1991, something which CIDA, Canada’s federal aid agency noted, referring to Mali as an “example of democracy in the sub-Saharan region.”

In addition, Canadian forces had also helped to train the country’s military. They had spent about $2-million for a peacekeeping school, and Canadian soldiers helped train Mali’s counterterrorism units.

But this training made little difference in the poorly equipped Malian army, which is known for corruption and human-rights abuses.

Canadian businesses have also invested in the country with investments of about $300-million from 20 mining companies.

With files from the New York Times, Campbell Clark and Geoffrey York

Mike Blais

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Mixed messages on Mali have opposition pressing for clarity
« Reply #2 on: January 01, 2013, 07:21:15 PM »

Mixed messages on Mali have opposition pressing for clarity


HALIFAX — The Globe and Mail

Published Monday, Dec. 31 2012, 7:03 PM EST

Last updated Monday, Dec. 31 2012, 7:52 PM EST

Contradictory messages from two Harper ministers about Canada’s potential role in strife-torn Mali have drawn questions from the official opposition about who is in charge of the government’s foreign policy.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay openly speculated on Sunday about Canadian troops training military officers in the West African desert country, similar to the Canadian mission taking place now in Afghanistan.

“We are contemplating what contribution Canada could make,” he said, noting that training is something Canadian troops are “particularly adept at doing.”

At the same time, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird repeated that there will be no military mission in Mali, which is trying to regain its northern region from Islamist forces.

All of this has left the NDP’s defence critic, Jack Harris, confused. He said Canadians need more clarity.

“It’s not something that should be readily mused about publicly, particularly by the Minister of Defence when the Foreign Affairs Minister so strongly indicated that there is no military role for Canada,” Mr. Harris said on Monday. “I just find it surprising that one minister would be so blatantly contradicting the Foreign Affairs Minister on such an important matter.”

The Prime Minister’s spokesman Andrew MacDougall dismissed any contradiction or split in the cabinet.

“The government’s position is clear,” he wrote in an email. “Canada is not contemplating a military mission in Mali.”

He said Canada “applauds” the UN Security Council resolution passed in late December authorizing a one-year deployment of an African-led mission to help the Malian authorities take back the area “occupied by terrorists.”

However, Mr. MacDougall added that Canada is “looking at ways to implement” the security council resolution’s call “for support to regional and international efforts to address the situation in Mali.”

It is also concerned that democracy return to the country after a coup last March.

Canada “stands ready” to assist, he said.

What that assistance will be – and whether the government believes a training mission is not a military mission – remains a mystery. Mr. MacDougall did not elaborate or answer those questions.

The NDP’s Mr. Harris said it’s clear that what Mr. MacKay is talking about would constitute a military mission.

“Mali is a situation where half the country is controlled by rebel forces, and clearly any activity there involving military assistance is a military mission,” he said. “There is no doubt about that.”

But, he noted that the UN resolution calls first for stability in the Mali government before any military intervention. It also calls for proper training of the military, which is notorious for human rights abuses.

Much more assessment must be done before Canada gets involved, he said. So far there has been no discussion in the House of Commons.

“Who is speaking for this government on foreign affairs,” he asks. “Well, we don’t know.”


With a report from Geoffrey York

Mike Blais

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Parliament must debate any military mission in Mali
« Reply #3 on: January 01, 2013, 07:22:13 PM »
Parliament must debate any military mission in Mali
Published on Tuesday January 01, 2013

Before sending Canadian troops into harm’s way in Mali, Prime Minister Stephen Harper should consult Parliament, and let the public know what the mission involves and the risks it entails. Defence Minister Peter MacKay has been musing about deploying military trainers. But given Mali’s explosive volatility even trainers could face dangers that we should weigh before signing on.

Interim President Dioncounda Traoré presides over a weak regime that is run from the shadows by forces loyal to Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo, who led a coup in March. Just weeks ago the military also forced out Traoré’s prime minister. That prompted the United Nations Security Council to demand that the army stop meddling.

And that’s arguably the least of Mali’s problems. In the north, Islamists linked to Al Qaeda have carved out a state, imposing a brutal version of Islamic law, destroying shrines and creating an anarchic, Afghan-like haven for foreign extremists. While the Security Council has approved an African-led military force of 3,300 troops to help Mali’s dysfunctional army of 7,000 wrest back control, the African forces have more experience in peacekeeping than waging a counter-insurgency war. So there’s a push on to deploy American, European and Canadian trainers, and to supply equipment.

Our trainers have served in Mali before. But Ottawa abruptly halted aid after the coup. It has demanded “free and fair” elections. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird recently cancelled a visit as too risky. And the African force won’t be combat-ready before September.

Before dispatching troops into a maelstrom that could become a full-blown war the government should come clean about its intentions, and more specifically about how they fit into a larger, credible international plan to restore democracy and stability.

Sylvain Chartrand CD

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How Canadian troops could end up in Mali
« Reply #4 on: January 02, 2013, 11:07:59 AM »
How Canadian troops could end up in Mali


HALIFAX — The Globe and Mail

Published Tuesday, Jan. 01 2013, 6:57 PM EST

Last updated Tuesday, Jan. 01 2013, 7:33 PM EST

In late December, the UN Security Council passed a resolution calling for African troops to help Mali combat Islamist forces occupying the northern part of the country. On Sunday, Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay suggested the Harper government could contribute to a training mission in the African nation of Mali depending on the “ask” – this, despite the fact Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has repeatedly said Canada is not “contemplating” a military mission in Mali. Should the government decide to contribute, here’s how it would come about:

The so-called ask – for troop commitment and what sort of mission Canada would be involved in – would come through the United Nations Force Generation Service (FGS), which is part of its department of peacekeeping operations, according to Walter Dorn, professor of defence studies at Kingston’s Royal Military College.

The UN would forward its request to Canada’s military adviser at Canada’s permanent mission to the UN in New York, who would then send it along to Ottawa and the Department of National Defence, and also to Foreign Affairs.

The UN Security Council resolution passed in late December didn’t contain a timeline, but did state that no military intervention would take place before the Mali government is stable and its military, which is notorious for human-rights abuses, is properly trained. Any military intervention would not likely happen until next fall.

“They’re giving it a long preparation time,” said Prof. Dorn. “So that means that they’re trying to figure out what they would do.”

In addition, Prof. Dorn notes that it is not clear whether this would be a “hybrid” mission – one that is jointly commanded by the UN and the African Union – or one specifically led by the African Union, which includes more than 50 African states.

“There will be a lot of tension in terms of who’s doing what,” said Prof. Dorn. “So one issue will be command and another will be what is the French role – you don’t want to be looking colonial – and what’s the American role?”

These strategic issues, as well as rules of engagement, still have to be worked out, he said.

“This is a mission where you have to use a substantial amount of force,” he said. “It is not a peacekeeping mission.”

Prof. Dorn suggests Canada could also contribute equipment needed for air reconnaissance and logistical purposes, including night-vision devices. In addition, in 2005 Canada supplied more than 100 armoured vehicles to African peacekeepers in Darfur. “We have experience of actually bringing APCs into Africa. So we could repeat that,” said Prof. Dorn.

Canadian troops are attractive, too, because of some members’ ability to speak both French and English – an advantage in a francophone country such as Mali.

Mike Blais

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Re: Mali - Political Status
« Reply #5 on: January 07, 2013, 07:33:36 PM »

Fowler condemns Tories for saying Canada hasn’t been asked to join Mali mission


OTTAWA — The Canadian Press

Published Monday, Jan. 07 2013, 6:12 PM EST

Last updated Monday, Jan. 07 2013, 6:59 PM EST

Mr. Fowler, a former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations, accused the government of ignoring last month’s resolution by the UN Security Council that called on all countries to contribute to halt the spread of terrorism that has taken root in Mali.

“The government has been asked. In the Security Council resolution 2085 of 20 December, the Security Council urges member states – of which I believe Canada is still one – to provide a whole set of things, including military training, provision of equipment, intelligence, logistics support and any necessary assistance to reduce the threat posed by terrorist organizations,” Mr. Fowler told The Canadian Press.

“Therefore, we have been asked.”

Earlier in the day, a government official who spoke only on condition on anonymity offered the exact opposite view.

“Nothing has been asked of us as yet,” the official told The Canadian Press.

Mr. Harper plays host to African Union president Thomas Boni Yayi on Tuesday on Parliament Hill, where the chaos and violence that have gripped Mali for much of the last year will be high on their agenda.

Mali was struck by a military coup in March and now has a group linked to al-Qaeda controlling its north.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay stoked speculation about the mission last week when he said Canada would be willing to send military trainers.

The office of Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird countered that Canada was not contemplating a military mission to Mali. This was same position the government official put forth again on Monday.

“We will wait to hear what people are requesting, if they are requesting anything,” the official said. “As Minister Baird has said, we’re not contemplating a military mission, and Minister Baird is on the record with that. It’s the government’s position.”

Mr. Fowler denounced that position, saying Canada does not need a special invitation after the passage of the recent UN resolution.

“This is how one asks. It’s a way that enables some people to pretend they haven’t been asked. But they’ve been asked. All member states have been asked,” Mr. Fowler said. “It is a clear invitation to anybody that can, and anybody that cares, to play.”

Mr. Fowler urged Mr. Harper to answer the renewed personal request he expects he will receive in Tuesday’s meeting with a resounding yes.

Mr. Fowler came face-to-face with the threat that is currently destabilizing Mali and its West African neighbours when he and a fellow Canadian diplomat, Louis Guay, were kidnapped in 2008 and held for 130 days by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

At the time, Mr. Fowler was the UN special envoy to Niger, where he and Mr. Guay were abducted.

“We’re going to have to intervene now or later. And it will be a lot more expensive and a lot bloodier later,” Mr. Fowler said.

“Quite often I’m asked, ‘How are you doing?’ And my usual answer is: ‘I’m doing fine, and so too is al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.’ They now have a country. They have a base, and they are doing what they told me they would do.

“They told us that their objective was to spread the chaos and anarchy of Somalia across the Sahel region from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic, and in that chaos their jihad would thrive. And that’s what they’re doing.”

The official said Mr. Harper is well aware that Mr. Boni Yayi is an advocate of military intervention in Mali, but that the government doesn’t want to get involved in a military mission there.

Mr. Harper is expecting a full briefing on the latest developments in Mali, but the official would not say whether the Prime Minister was expecting an “ask” from Mr. Boni Yayi.

Mali was a stable recipient of Canadian aid and one of the continent’s best partners before its democratically elected government was toppled by a military coup in March.

That enabled al-Qaeda’s African affiliate to swoop into the north and capture the largest piece of land that the terrorist network has ever held.

Two analysts agreed Monday that Canada had a duty to contribute to the international military force, to stop the spread of terrorism across Africa.

But they offered sharply different views on what could be in store for the Canadian Forces.

“We should also be under no illusion that such a training mission will be easy or can be undertaken without making substantial investments on the ground,” said Fen Hampson, head of the global security program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont.

“There is no quick fix here and we should not be doing something just to feel good about ourselves. We either get serious or we don’t do it at all.”

Andrew Grant, an Africa expert at Queen’s University, said that the government needs to help a country with which it has had a stable 40-year relationship.

“I think they will contribute, but it’s not going to be an overly robust contribution. You’re not going to see active engagement by Canadian troops out in the field.”

Mike Blais

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Re: Mali - Political Status
« Reply #6 on: January 12, 2013, 09:59:59 PM »
Caution on Mali
By Ottawa Citizen Editorial, Ottawa Citizen January 11, 2013

In a world of increasing disorder, failing states and non-governmental terrorist organizations, it is surely necessary for states that are able to do so to shoulder the burden of imposing order.

Indeed, former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff once argued for an updated version of western imperialism — “empire lite,” he called it — as a necessary response to international disorder. “How can it be imperialist to help people throw off the shackles of tyranny?” he asked. It’s a good question in light of recent debate on whether Canada should send troops to one of Africa’s failing states, Mali. The West African nation is under siege from Islamist forces in the northern part of the country. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has rejected a personal request from the head of the African Union, Thomas Boni Yayi, for Canadian soldiers as part of a NATO force.

Harper’s decision was condemned. Robert Fowler, the former Canadian diplomat once held hostage by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, warned that if Islamists succeed in Mali “it would create an economic and humanitarian disaster.” Others observed that losing Mali to the Islamists “will pose a direct threat to Europe.”

Arguably, the existence of another zone of chaos on the fringes of the West is too dangerous to tolerate. If so, then Canada’s participation in a NATO mission to Mali might be warranted. Yet, doubts about the utility of such a mission are also warranted. Much of the Middle East and parts of Africa are increasingly unstable. Iran, with its nuclear ambitions and anti-Israeli policies, is sidling up to Egypt and its Muslim Brotherhood government. Al-Shabaab terrorists plague Somalia. Iraq is again fracturing along sectarian lines. And Syria descends ever deeper into civil war. Like any civilized country, Canada has an interest in seeing these countries stabilized and the rule of law prevail.

Canadians have certainly been willing in the past to expend blood and treasure attempting to bring order out of disorder. Missions to Bosnia and Herzegovina, East Timor, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Libya are among the recent demonstrations of this commitment.

Why not Mali? Sending Canadian soldiers to Mali depends on at least three factors: whether the cause is worthy, our capacity to make an effective contribution, and, finally, whether it is in the national interest.

The al-Qaida affiliate terrorizing Mali is a thuggish group deserving elimination, but it is doubtful whether Canada’s soldiers, good as they are, would prove effective in the long run. The clash in northern Mali is rooted in tribal rivalries, the government is corrupt and violates human rights, and the country’s army incompetent.

Finally, it is hard to see where Canada has a clear and direct national interest. Other countries certainly do. France, the former colonial power, committed to military action on Friday. The Economic Community of Western African States has promised 3,000 troops to assist Mali’s military, but its members have been slow to deliver.

Canada can still help: technical support, humanitarian aid, fostering governmental institutions that better serve citizens. But, as Ignatieff observed, there is often a “strong element of narcissism buried inside the more obvious motivations leading the West to intervene” in places like Mali. We intervene “not only to save others, but to save ourselves, or rather an image of ourselves and defenders of universal decencies.”

It is to Harper’s credit that he has taken the national interest into account and rejected this narcissistic impulse.

Ottawa Citizen
© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

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Mike Blais

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Mali rebels pushed back by French jets
« Reply #7 on: January 12, 2013, 11:23:19 PM »

Mali rebels pushed back by French jets
Published on Saturday January 12, 2013

JOHANNESBURG—French airstrikes in Mali turned back Al Qaeda-linked militants who recently began moving south after seizing a vast northern desert region of the West African nation last year, French officials said Saturday.

French forces drove the Ansar Dine militia from the city of Konna after deploying warplanes and hundreds of troops on Friday to Mali, its former colony, the officials said. A French helicopter was downed in the operation and its pilot, Danien Boiteux, was killed.

An alliance of West African nations, which had spent months planning a long-delayed operation to fight Ansar Dine, responded to the French intervention by promising Saturday to immediately deploy troops to Mali.

The UN Security Council agreed last year to the intervention by the alliance, known as ECOWAS. But months dragged on with no action, as Ansar Dine tightened its grip in the north and Western nations grew increasingly alarmed at the prospect of a terrorist haven at Europe’s back door.

The French intervention followed a request from the Malian government to help its ill-equipped forces fighting the militants, who were advancing toward Mopti, a major town where government troops are based, and potentially threatening the capital, Bamako.

“Already, thanks to the courage of our soldiers, a quick stop and heavy losses have been inflicted on our adversaries,” French President François Hollande said Saturday in Paris. “But our mission is not at an end. I have made sure that the military presence in Bamako has been reinforced to protect our citizens.”

“The threat is a terrorist state at the doorstep of France and Europe,” French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters.

French warplanes and helicopters attacked the militias, dropping bombs and launching rockets in an operation that French military officials said also wiped out a major Ansar Dine base near Konna.

Hollande announced a tightening of French domestic security and said the Mali operation would last as long as necessary. He said brutal terrorist groups, drug traffickers and extremists threatened everyone.

Mali, long seen as a stable democracy in a volatile region, was split in two last year when Tuareg rebels who had fled Libya after the fall of Moammar Gadhafi seized the major northern towns of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu.

The Tuareg fighters were swiftly outflanked by Al Qaeda-linked militants who imposed a severe form of Islamic law in the north, amputating convicted thieves’ limbs, stoning those accused of adultery and destroying ancient World Heritage monuments such as mausoleums in Timbuktu.

France has been playing a more interventionist role in Africa, declaring that it would fight terrorism anywhere on the continent. On Saturday, French forces also launched a raid in Somalia to rescue a French secret service agent held by Islamist militants since 2009; the agent and a French soldier died in the rescue attempt, as did at least 17 militants.

France has about 6,000 citizens in Mali, and numerous French have been kidnapped with the rise of militant groups in the Sahel region, including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Eight French are still being held hostage.

France sees Mali as a particular concern because human traffickers and drug smugglers have been able to cross the region’s porous borders and get to Europe without difficulty. The fear is that terrorists based in northern Mali could use the same routes to cross into Europe and launch devastating attacks.

Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, chairman of the ECOWAS commission, said Saturday that the regional group had decided to swiftly send troops into Mali because of the urgency of the situation. However, the alliance did not confirm how many troops would be sent or when they would arrive.

Ansar Dine threatened to target French citizens in retaliation for the French military operation.

“There are consequences, not only for French hostages, but also for all French citizens wherever they find themselves in the Muslim world,” said Ansar Dine spokesman Sanda Ould Boumama, according to Reuters news service. “We are going to continue resisting and defend ourselves. We are ready to die fighting.”

Malian military spokesman Diarran Kone said the army was combing Konna to ensure no militants remained, The Associated Press reported.

“We are doing sweeps of the city to find any hidden Islamist extremist elements,” Kone said. “The full recovery of the city is too early to determine as we do not yet control the city, and we remain vigilant.”

Mike Blais

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Troops head to Mali, as battle for north rages
« Reply #8 on: January 13, 2013, 11:23:29 AM »
USA Today

Troops head to Mali, as battle for north rages
Rukmini Callimachi, Associated Press10:38a.m. EST January 13, 2013

Several African nations begun sending troops to Mali Sunday to assist France in its mission to take back control of Mali's north from al-Qaeda-linked rebel groups.

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — The first days of the battle against Islamic extremists holding Mali's north have left at least 11 civilians dead, including three children who threw themselves into a river and drowned trying to avoid falling bombs, a presidential spokesman said Sunday as troops from Mali's neighbors are expected to join hundreds of French soldiers in the fight.

Niger, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Nigeria agreed on Saturday to send soldiers, a day after France authorized airstrikes, dispatching fighter jets from neighboring Chad and bombing rebel positions north of Mopti, the last Malian-controlled town.

State television announced that the African troops, including as many as 500 each from Burkina Faso and Niger, are expected to begin arriving on Sunday. Britain has offered the use of its transport planes in order to help bring in the soldiers, according to a statement released by Prime Minister David Cameron's office in London.

The African soldiers will work alongside French special forces, including a contingent that arrived Saturday in Bamako in order to secure the capital against retaliatory attacks by the al-Qaeda-linked rebel groups occupying Mali's northern half. National television broadcast footage of the French troops walking single-file out of the Bamako airport on Saturday, weapons strapped to their bodies or held over their shoulders.

Hundreds of Malians on Sunday also left the town of Lere for neighboring Mauritania, about 43 miles away, to escape the violence. Last year's initial fighting prompted hundreds of thousands of Malians to flee the north, displacing them or making them refugees in neighboring countries.

The military operation began Friday, after the fall of the town of Konna on Thursday to the al-Qaeda-linked groups. Konna is only 30 miles north of the government's line of control, which begins at the town of Mopti, home to the largest concentration of Malian troops in the country.

The United Nations had cautioned that a military intervention needed to be properly planned, and outlined a step-by-step process that diplomats said would delay the operation until at least September of this year.

The rebels' decision to push south, and the swift fall of Konna, changed everything. After an appeal for help from Mali's president, French President Francois Hollande sent in the Mirage jets and combat helicopters, pounding rebel convoys and destroying a militant base. Footage of the jets provided to French television stations showed the triangle-shaped aircrafts screaming across the sky over northern Mali. French newspaper Le Monde reported that the jets dropped at least two, 250-kilogram (550-pound) bombs over militant targets.

The human toll has not yet been calculated, but a communique read on state television late Saturday said that at least 11 Malians were killed in Konna.

Sory Diakite, the mayor of Konna, says the dead included children who drowned after they threw themselves into a river in an effort to escape the bombardments.

"Others were killed inside their courtyards, or outside their homes. People were trying to flee to find refuge. Some drowned in the river. At least three children threw themselves in the river. They were trying to swim to the other side. And there has been significant infrastructure damage," said the mayor, who fled the town with his family and is now in Bamako.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Sunday that France now has more than 400 troops in Bamako, mainly to ensure the safety of French citizens and also to send a signal to the extremists.

"We will strengthen our operation depending on the situation," he said on a political talk show with itele and Europe 1 radio. Le Drian said that Rafale fighter jets will be part of the operation and that technical support will be arriving in the hours ahead.

He said that France has international support and "the Americans seconded us" with intelligence and logistical support, though he did not elaborate.

A senior British official suggested Sunday that UK personnel could also play a role in training the Malian army.

Africa minister Mark Simmonds told Sky News television that "we may well, through a European Union mechanism, provide training and support for the Malian army to give them strength to bring back the integrity of the Malian country in totality.

"It's absolutely essential, as part of our obligations as a permanent member of the Security Council that we provide assistance when we are requested," he said.

Simmonds also gave details of the said details of Britain's logistical help, saying that a pair C-17s — large Boeing-built transport planes adapted for operating out of crude airfields — would be dispatched to the area.

Storage hangars and "sensitive sites" were among targets destroyed so far and the Islamists lost a "significant number" in the fighting, Le Drian said. "The intervention is still in progress and we will continue" as long as needed.

Human rights groups have warned that any military intervention will exact a humanitarian price. As Mali and the international community took time to prepare for intervention in the north, the rebels affiliated with al-Qaeda were able to dig into the terrain, and prepare for war. The rebels occupied Mali's northern half, an area larger than Afghanistan, in the chaos following a coup in Mali's capital last March.

With no clear leader at the head of the country, Mali's military simply gave up when the rebels arrived, retreating hundreds of miles to the south without a fight. In the nine months since then, the extremists have imposed their austere and severe form Islam, and those who disobey their rules are beaten with whips and camel switches. Public amputations of the hands of thieves have become a regular spectacle.

They have also used their nine-month siege of the north to dig into the landscape, creating elaborate defenses, including tunnels and ramparts using the construction equipment abandoned by fleeing construction crews.

In addition to the civilians, a French pilot was killed after the Islamists downed his combat helicopter, in a sign of how dangerous the terrain has become even for trained, special forces.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Mali: British Military Plane 'Leaving Today'
« Reply #9 on: January 13, 2013, 11:31:39 AM »

Mali: British Military Plane 'Leaving Today'

Sky sources say the RAF C17 will stop in Paris before heading to the West African country to help the French military operation.
1:48pm UK, Sunday 13 January 2013

The first British military plane destined to assist the French operation in Mali will leave this afternoon, Sky sources say.

The RAF C17 will stop off in Paris to load before a 10-hour flight to the West African country and will not arrive before tomorrow, the sources added.

It comes after Downing Street confirmed the Prime Minister had agreed to provide "logistical military assistance" to the French.

David Cameron spoke to Francois Hollande on Saturday evening as France attempted to contain al Qaeda-linked rebels in the north of the West African country.

French fighter jets and attack helicopters launched fresh strikes on Islamist strongholds in northern Mali on Sunday.

Prominent Islamist leader Abdel Krim  - nicknamed "Kojak" - is reported to have been killed in the strikes.
French soldiers prepare to board a flight to Mali at at a French base in Chad French troops prepare to board a flight to Mali from a base in Chad

A 600-strong multi-national West African force, authorised by the UN Security Council to help the Mali government reclaim control of the north of the country, is also on its way to the capital Bamako. It will be commanded by General Shehu Abdulkadir of Nigeria.

In addition, Burkina Faso, Niger, Senegal and Togo have all pledged around 500 troops this weekend, while Benin has said it will send 300 soldiers.

French military strikes on the country have already claimed the lives of at least 100 rebels in a fight over the strategic town of Konna.

Eleven Malian soldiers are reported to have been killed and a further 60 wounded in the recent fighting.

Mr Hollande has raised his country's terror threat level amid fears of retaliatory attacks in France.

He said France "has to take all necessary precautions" in the face of a terrorist threat, including "surveillance of our public buildings and our transport network".
MALI-UN-UNREST-PRODI The UN's Sahel envoy Romano Prodi, left, and President Dioncounda Traore

A Downing Street spokesman said last night: "The Prime Minister spoke to President Hollande this evening to discuss the deteriorating situation in Mali and how the UK can support French military assistance provided to the Malian government to contain rebel and extremist groups in the north of the country.

"The Prime Minister has agreed that the UK will provide logistical military assistance to help transport foreign troops and equipment quickly to Mali.

"We will not be deploying any British personnel in a combat role.

"Both leaders agreed that the situation in Mali poses a real threat to international security given terrorist activity there.

"They discussed the need to work with the Malian government, regional neighbours and international partners to prevent a new terrorist haven developing on Europe's doorstep and to reinvigorate the UN led political process once the rebel advance has been halted.

"The National Security Council, which was already due to meet on Tuesday, will now consider the situation in Mali and discuss what needs to be done to secure a lasting political settlement in Mali."
Islamist rebels in Mali Islamist rebels seized a swathe of northern Mali last spring

One French pilot has died in the military action after hundreds of French soldiers were deployed in the country.

Mr Hollande took action in Mali at the request of interim President Dioncounda Traore, who has declared a state of emergency.

Western governments expressed alarm on Thursday after an al Qaeda-linked rebel alliance captured Konna, a gateway towards the capital Bamako 600km (375 miles) south.

The Malian army has said it was attacking the "last pockets of resistance" by insurgents in Konna after they recaptured it with the help of the French.

Mr Hollande said the "terrorist groups, drug traffickers and extremists" in northern Mali "show a brutality that threatens us all." He vowed that the operation would last "as long as necessary".

The West African regional bloc ECOWAS has now authorised the immediate deployment of troops to Mali.

The bloc's commission president, Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, said it made the decision "in light of the urgency of the situation".
Mirage 2000 D aircraft en route to the French military base in N'Djamena, Chad French Mirage 2000 D aircraft en route to the Mali operation

For the past nine months, the Islamic militants have controlled a large swathe of northern Mali, a lawless desert region where kidnapping has flourished.

Mr Hollande said the operation was aimed in part at protecting 6,000 French citizens in Mali, including seven who are being held captive.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Senegal and Nigeria also responded to an appeal from Mali's president for help to counter the militants.

Late last year, the 15 nations in West Africa, including Mali, agreed on a proposal for the military to take back the north, and sought backing from the UN.

The Security Council authorised the intervention but imposed certain conditions, including the training of Mali's military, which has been accused of serious human rights abuses since a military coup last year sent the nation into disarray.

Al Qaeda's affiliate in Africa has been a shadowy presence for years in the forests and deserts of poverty-stricken Mali.

Most Malians adhere to a moderate form of Islam, but in recent months the terrorist group and its allies have taken advantage of political instability, taking territory they use to stock weapons and train forces.

The Islamists have insisted they want to impose Sharia only in northern Mali, though there long have been fears they could push further south.

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France Says 'Heavy Losses' Inflicted In Mali
« Reply #10 on: January 13, 2013, 11:35:46 AM »

Sunday, January 13, 2013
France Says 'Heavy Losses' Inflicted In Mali

January 13, 2013
President Francois Hollande says French air strikes have inflicted “heavy losses” on Islamist rebels in the West African nation of Mali.

Hollande spoke as French aircraft on January 12 bombarded the rebels for a second day.

Hollande said France had decided to act to prepare the way for the eventual deployment of an African force in Mali to reconquer territory seized by the rebels.

The French leader also announced that the authorities are boosting security inside France to protect against potential retaliation.

Officials said a French pilot had died when his helicopter was shot down by the Al-Qaeda–linked Mali rebels.

Hundreds of French soldiers are meanwhile reported to have deployed in Bamako to protect the capital.

The United Nations Security Council, European Union, and United States have all backed intervention to repel the Islamists.

The Islamists last week seized the central town of Konna, raising concerns they had launched an offensive from their northern base to capture the whole of the country.

Officials say Konna has been recaptured by government forces. Malian Interim President Dioncounda Traore, who has declared a national state of emergency, said 11 soldiers had died and some 60 were wounded in fighting over the town.

In a televised statement at the Elysee Palace, Hollande said security was being increased at French public buildings and transport infrastructure to guard against potential reprisals.

In addition to the Mali intervention, French forces were in action in the Horn of Africa nation of Somalia on January 12.

Officials said an attempt to rescue a French intelligence agent held by Somali Islamists had failed, and that two French soldiers and the agent were feared dead, along with 17 militants.

In his address, Hollande said French forces had pushed back the rebel advance in Mali, inflicting “heavy losses.”

He said France’s mission was to prepare for the insertion of an African-led force to reclaim territory held by the rebels.

"Thanks to the courage of our soldiers, we have held back the progress of our adversaries and inflicted heavy losses on them," Hollande said.

"But our mission is not over yet. I reiterate that it consists in preparing the deployment of an African intervention force, to allow Mali to get back its territorial integrity in accordance with the Security Council resolution.”

Hollande stressed that Paris had only one goal for its intervention in its former colony -- to “fight against terrorism.”

Western officials have raised concerns that Islamists could turn Mali into a base to organize attacks on the West and strengthen the influence of Al-Qaeda-linked militants in North Africa.

"I reiterate that in this operation, France is not pursuing any particular interests, other than the safety of a country that is a friend," Hollande said.

"It doesn't have any other goal than the fight against terrorism. That is why, its actions are supported by the whole of the international community and acknowledged by all the African countries."

The UN Security Council has authorized the deployment of a 3,300-strong African intervention force to help the Malian government restore order.

The 15-nation West African bloc ECOWAS has approved the immediate deployment of troops for the force.

The crisis has arisen since a military coup in Mali in March 2012. In the wake of the instability, secular Tuareg rebels seized the north of the landlocked country. Islamists took advantage of the security vacuum to make their own power grab.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa

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How Canada helped al-Qaida in Mali
« Reply #11 on: January 14, 2013, 08:02:34 AM »

How Canada helped al-Qaida in Mali
January 13, 2013 - 8:59pm SCOTT TAYLOR | On Target

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Late last December, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution for other African nations to deploy troops to assist Mali in combating Islamic extremists.

This, of course, set Ottawa abuzz with speculation that Canada may also consider contributions to a future international military intervention.

While Prime Minister Stephen Harper said last Tuesday that no “direct Canadian military mission” to Mali is being contemplated, Defence Minister Peter MacKay has suggested that troops could be sent in to help train Mali’s army.

As most Canadians would be hard-pressed to locate Mali on a map, let alone understand the complex political machinations of the former French colony, many would be hesitant to see our troops deployed yet again into harm’s way to a faraway country with an ill-defined objective.

The fact is that, since Canada lent such a helping hand in letting the genie out of the bottle, one could easily argue that we are morally obligated to help Mali contain the resultant damage.

How exactly did Canada help al-Qaida establish a secure area of operations in northern Mali?

This winding, bumbling path began on Dec. 14, 2008, just outside of Niamey, the capital of Niger, where two Canadian diplomats, Robert Fowler and Louis Guay, were abducted by a terrorist group known as the al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

This group of Islamic fundamentalists operates in the largely uninhabited tracts of the vast Sahara Desert. In recent years, AQIM has been financing their terrorist activities by seizing foreigners and holding them for ransom.

In the case of Fowler and Guay, the price was steep because they were top-level Canadian officials in the employ of the UN.

While the Canadian government maintains that they did not pay any ransom directly, even Fowler has since acknowledged that his release was secured through a financial payment.

“They didn’t let me go because of my pretty eyes,” Fowler quipped to media while steadfastly maintaining that he does not know the source of the ransom funds. At the time, European media outlets reported that AQIM was paid more than 5 million euros (about C$7 million) in exchange for Fowler and Guay.

And here is where the Mali connection comes into play.

Although the Canadians were seized and held in neighbouring Niger, the AQIM are also active in northern Mali.

In addition to the cash paid for Fowler and Guay, the Mali government admitted that they also consented to release four AQIM operatives from their jail as part of fulfilling the ransom demands.

That was in April 2009.

Fast-forward to the spring of 2011 and, for those still following the bouncing ball, Mali borders Niger and Niger borders Libya.

The fierce Tuareg tribesmen who inhabit the essentially desert tracts were championed by former Libyan president Moammar Gadhafi and, in turn, the Tuareg were loyal to him when the armed uprising began.

As Canadians are well aware, our nation took a leading role in supporting the anti-Gadhafi rebels with the combined might of NATO’s air power.

Although there was a UN arms embargo in effect, this was a one-sided affair because Britain and France flooded weapons and munitions to the ill-disciplined Libyan rebels. The embattled Gadhafi also cracked open his armouries and distributed weapons to countless untrained Libyan volunteers.

The result was that, by the time of Gadhafi’s capture and public execution, Libya was awash in uncontrolled, unregistered weaponry of all calibres.

The Tuaregs took their newly acquired arsenal and fled Libya for northern Mali. Here, they reinforced the already simmering separatist movement and Mali’s military proved unequal to the challenge.

After a series of bloody rehearsals at the hands of the rebels, the Mali military mutinied and the democratically elected government collapsed. AQIM helped to co-ordinate the Tuareg victory and were quick to seize the spoils.

To date, Canada has provided AQIM with ransom money, ensured that some of their key personnel were released from incarceration and then, by failing to follow up and secure weapon stocks in Libya, allowed the terrorist group to amass a windfall of weapons that enabled their subsequent seizure of northern Mali.

To admit our culpability in this fiasco would make it easy to explain Canada’s participation in a future international intervention against the AQIM in Mali.

However, such an admission of blunders is unlikely any time soon from a government that keeps insisting that our campaign in Libya was an unmitigated success.

Scott Taylor is an author and editor of Esprit de Corps magazine.

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Canada sending C-17 transport plane to help allies in Mali
« Reply #12 on: January 14, 2013, 12:55:03 PM »

Canada sending C-17 transport plane to help allies in Mali
Sunday tweet from Mali's president tipped Canada's hand, announcing assistance
CBC News
Posted: Jan 14, 2013 12:33 PM ET

The Prime Minister's Office said Monday it would send one Canadian Forces C-17 transport aircraft, like this one seen on the tarmac at India's Bangalore Airport in November, to help support military action against insurgents in Mali. The plane will not operate in any combat zone, the PMO said. The Prime Minister's Office said Monday it would send one Canadian Forces C-17 transport aircraft, like this one seen on the tarmac at India's Bangalore Airport in November, to help support military action against insurgents in Mali. The plane will not operate in any combat zone, the PMO said. (James Cudmore/CBC)
Canada will provide one RCAF C-17 transport aircraft in a non-combat role to support the operations of its allies in Mali for a week, the Harper government announced Monday morning in a press release.

The assistance was previewed in a Sunday tweet from Mali's president, Dioncounda Traoré, who said that the United States, Great Britain and Canada are announcing their "support/logistical assistance" as the French military continues to fight the insurgency led by the al-Qaeda-linked extremists in Mali.

Initially, it was unclear what this tweet could be referring to. While the other two countries had moved over the weekend to announce specific support measures for the airstrikes in the former French colony, Canada's on-the-record support for countering the insurgency before today had been only verbal.

The government release issued late Monday morning said Canada had received received a specific request from the French government today for "heavy-lift aircraft to assist in the transport of equipment into the Malian capital of Bamako, a location that is not part of any active combat zone."

"While the Government of Canada is not, and will not be, considering a direct Canadian military mission in Mali, Canada is prepared, consistent with the UN Security Council Resolution [2085], to provide limited and clearly defined logistical support to assist the forces that are intervening in Mali," the statement from Prime Minister Stephen Harper said.

"At no time will Canadian Armed Forces members be participating in direct action against insurgent forces in Mali," the prime minister's statement said.
Military intervention previously ruled out

During a joint news conference with the chair of the African Union in Ottawa last Tuesday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper appeared to have ruled out Canadian military intervention.

"The government of Canada is not considering a direct Canadian military mission," he told reporters. "Obviously, we are providing humanitarian aid to this region, which is important. And we are consulting with, and working with, and will continue diplomatically with, our allies in the west, and obviously with our friends in Africa, on ways that we can be of assistance."

On Monday morning, ministerial aides representing the Harper government did not announce or would not confirm any additional specific support measures on Canada's part.

"Canada continues to be deeply concerned by the ongoing security situation in Mali and supports efforts to stabilize that country," both Rick Roth, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Jay Paxton, a spokesman for Defence Minister Peter MacKay wrote to CBC News in separate emails.

Canada froze its foreign aid to Mali last March following its coup, but it continues to fund humanitarian assistance through non-governmental organizations working in that country.

Also prior to the coup, Canada had two military officers stationed at the peacekeeping school in Bamako, Mali's capital, as instructors. They returned home last spring when the insurgency took hold.

Over the Christmas holidays, MacKay suggested Canada was considering a "contribution," potentially in a training role.

But speaking on CBC Radio's The House on Jan. 5, International Cooperation Minister Julian Fantino said that "Canada remains very concerned about the situation in Mali, and we have not, do not anticipate going there" — a message reiterated by Harper three days later.
Other countries joining fight

French military forces began an aerial bombing campaign late last week to try to support the weakened Malian military's fight against insurgents with ties with the al-Qaeda terrorist network. France wants to see more African troops join the fight.

On Saturday, several West African nations announced they would send troops as early as today, including at least 500 troops each from Niger, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Nigeria.

The U.S. isn't considering sending ground troops or conducting air strikes of its own, but has offered military drones and is said to be considering a broad range of other options for assistance, including intelligence or limited refuelling support for the French campaign.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has announced two RAF C-17 Globemaster cargo planes were offered to support the French military.

"The development of essentially an entire terrorist region in the middle of Africa is obviously of great concern to everyone in the international community," Harper said last week.

But Thomas Boni Yayi, the president of Benin who is currently the chair of the nations in the African Union, said at the same press conference that "there are also other forces outside the African continent that could contribute to take into account the seriousness of the situation and the resources that are required to implement this."

The United Nations Security Council is meeting at 3 p.m. ET in New York to discuss the ongoing conflict in Mali.

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Re: Mali - Political // Military Status.
« Reply #13 on: January 16, 2013, 09:49:06 AM »

French forces in Mali launch ground offensive
The Associated Press
Posted: Jan 16, 2013 5:50 AM ET
Last Updated: Jan 16, 2013 8:57 AM ET

French Elite Special Operations soldiers drive through the town of Markala, about 275 km from the capital Bamako on Tuesday, to meet Malian soldiers and organize a counter-attack in the jihadist-held town of Diabaly. French Elite Special Operations soldiers drive through the town of Markala, about 275 km from the capital Bamako on Tuesday, to meet Malian soldiers and organize a counter-attack in the jihadist-held town of Diabaly. (Francois Rihouay/Reuters)

French troops pressed northward in Mali toward territory occupied by radical Islamists on Wednesday, military officials said, announcing the start of a land assault that will put soldiers in direct combat "within hours."

French ground operations began overnight in Mali, Adm. Edouard Guillaud, the French military chief of staff, said on Europe 1 television. France's Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said soldiers were headed away from the relative safety of the capital toward the rebel strongholds in the north.

Residents of Niono, a city in the centre of Mali which is just south of a town that was overrun by the jihadists earlier this week, said they saw trucks of French soldiers arrive overnight. The natural target for the French infantry is Diabaly, located 400 kilometres northeast of the capital and roughly 70 kilometres north of Niono. French warplanes have carried out airstrikes on Diabaly since the weekend, when a column of dozens of rebel vehicles cut off the road out of Diabaly and seized the town as well as its military camp.

Ibrahim Komnotogo, a resident of Diabaly who heads a USAID-financed rice agriculture project, happened to be outside the town when the jihadists encircled it. He has 20 employees and contractors who he says are stuck inside the town, population 35,000. He told The Associated Press that al-Qaida-linked rebels have sealed off the roads and are preventing people from leaving.

Komnotogo says he fears the Islamists are planning to hide within the mud-walled neighbourhoods and use the population as a human shield.

"The jihadists have split up. They don't move around in big groups ... they are out in the streets, in fours, and fives and sixes, and they are living inside the most habituated neighbourhoods," he said, explaining that they had taken over the homes of people who managed to flee before the road was cut off.
A French elite Special Operations soldier drives through the town of Markala, about 275 km from the capital Bamako. France will end its intervention in Mali only once stability has returned to the West African country, French President Francois Hollande said on Tuesday.A French elite Special Operations soldier drives through the town of Markala, about 275 km from the capital Bamako. France will end its intervention in Mali only once stability has returned to the West African country, French President Francois Hollande said on Tuesday. (Francois Rihouay/Reuters)

French warplanes bombarded the military camp, but there have been no airstrikes inside the actual town, which begins at the eastern wall of the garrison. Residents have evacuated the neighbourhood called which is only 500 metres from the camp, he said. They have moved mostly into a quartier called Berlin, about 1 kilometre from the military installation.

"They are preventing the population from leaving. We have been trying to get our employees out, but they can't leave," said Komnotogo. "They have parked their pickup trucks inside the courtyards of empty homes. They have beards. And they wear boubous (a flowing robe). No one approaches them. Everyone is afraid," he said.

French President Francois Hollande authorized the airstrikes last Friday after the Islamists began a push southward toward the capital from the northern half of Mali that they control. They seized the Afghanistan-sized north last April in the chaos following a coup in Mali's normally-stable capital.

Five days of airstrikes have done little to erode the Islamist gains in Mali, which some in the West fear could turn the region into a launching pad for terrorist attacks. The bombardments began in the town of Konna, which the rebels occupied last Thursday. After initially saying they had stopped the rebel advance, Le Drian on Tuesday acknowledged that Konna was still in the hands of the rebels.
Islamists within 400 km of capital

The seizure of Diabaly brings the Islamists to only 400 kilometres from the capital. Konna, the closest point where they were known to be before, is 680 kilometres away.

    Mali insurgents grab more territory

The ground assault reverses France's earlier insistence that it would provide only air and logistical support for a military intervention, which would be led by African troops. "Now we're on the ground," Guillaud said. "We will be in direct combat within hours."

On Tuesday, France announced it tripling the number of troops deployed to Mali from 800 to 2,500. The offensive was to have been led by thousands of African troops pledged by Mali's neighbours, but they have yet to arrive, leaving France alone to lead the operation.

Guillaud said the militant groups have a history of taking human shields and France would do its utmost to make sure civilians are not wrongly targeted. "When in doubt, we will not fire," he said.

A resident of Niono said that some residents of the besieged town had managed to slip through the rebel noose. They were arriving on foot, said Mamadou Haidara.
© The Associated Press, 2013
The Canadian Press

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Re: Mali - Political // Military Status.
« Reply #14 on: January 16, 2013, 09:53:26 AM »

France pledges to fight until Mali's Islamist rebels are wiped out

Air raids continue 'day and night' in battle with insurgents, but French president dismisses suggestion of colonialism

France will only end its intervention in Mali when political stability and an election process have been restored to the chaotic west African country and Islamist groups have been wiped out, the French president said on Tuesday, raising the prospect of a drawn-out engagement on hostile desert terrain.

The French defence minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said a "relentless" fight with Islamists was continuing on Tuesday night and France would stay "as long as necessary".

Mali is in political disarray after a coup last year and the fall of the vast northern desert to Islamist groups who operate a drug trafficking and kidnap economy in several Sahel countries.

French air raids continued "day and night" in the vast area seized by the Islamist alliance, which combines al-Qaida's north African wing, AQIM, with Mali's home-grown Movement for Oneness and Jihad in west Africa (Mojwa) and Ansar Dine rebel groups.

Le Drian described an implacable fight against Islamists who were "agile, determined, well-equipped, well-trained" and could easily hide in the desert.

He said that since Saturday, round-the-clock French air raids had been aimed at stopping the Islamist advance southwards towards the capital, Bamako, and destroying training camps, command structures and any rear bases in the north.

Airstrikes were continuing across a swath of territory east and west of the Niger river. But Le Drian said that in the town of Diabaly, which had seen an air offensive throughout Monday night, Islamists were still "very present" and threatened the south of the country. Diabaly is 220 miles (350km) from Bamako.

Le Drian said the town of Konna, which fell to the Islamists last Thursday triggering the sudden French intervention on Friday, had still not been retaken by the Malian army. The Red Cross said the army had sustained casualties.

France is to boost the 1,700 of its troops engaged in the mission, including 800 soldiers already on the ground, to 2,500.

West African armies are scrambling to join the operation, brought forward by France's air campaign to stop the rebel advance. It has carried out 50 bombing raids since Friday.

A column of French armoured vehicles rolled northward from Bamako towards rebel lines on Tuesday, the first major northward deployment of ground troops. A military official declined to comment on their objective.

On a visit to United Arab Emirates, President François Hollande said France had three aims: to stop the rebel advances, to secure Bamako and to help the Mali government regain control of the whole country. He said France would take a lesser role "as soon as there is an African force, in coming days or weeks", adding that France did not intend to stay.

In response to questions about a return to France's controversial and shadowy role pulling strings in its former colonies, Hollande said the Mali intervention, in an international legal framework with UN backing, had nothing to do with the practices of "a bygone era". He said: "France should only intervene in Africa in exceptional circumstances and for a limited time. That's what we will do."

But he added that France's role was to ensure that "when we end our intervention, Mali is safe, has legitimate authorities, an electoral process and there are no more terrorists threatening its territory".

Asked what France intended to do with the Islamists, Hollande said: "Destroy them. Take them captive, if possible."

West African defence chiefs met in Bamako to approve plans to speed up the deployment of 3,300 regional troops, foreseen in a UN-backed intervention plan to be led by Africans. After failing to reach a final agreement, they adjourned their talks until Wednesday.

Troops from the Ecowas grouping of west African states are expected to be deployed within a week to bolster the Malian army.

Nigeria, which is due to lead the African mission, pledged to deploy soldiers within 24 hours, but with its own army under pressure on several fronts and the sudden Mali intervention leaving little time for planing, Nigeria had already cautioned that even if some troops arrive in Mali swiftly, their training and equipping will take more time.

The UN refugee agency said the clashes in northern Mali were adding to the already large numbers of displaced people.

The agency spokesman, Adrian Edwards, said 1,230 refugees from Mali had arrived in Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania as a result of recent clashes between the French-backed Malian army and the rebel groups. More than 144,000 fled to neighbouring countries in 2012, and nearly 200,000 in northern Mali were displaced within the country.

Earlier on Tuesday the French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said the current level of the French involvement in Mali would go on for "a matter of weeks".

But a Mojwa commander told Associated Press: "I would advise France not to sing their victory song too quickly. They managed to leave Afghanistan. They will never leave Mali."

Oumar Ould Hamaha said: "It's to our advantage that they send in French troops on foot. We are waiting for them. And what they should know is that every French soldier that comes into our territory should make sure to prepare his will beforehand, because he will not leave alive."

In Lisbon, the US defence secretary, Leon Panetta, said no American troops would be put on the ground in Mali. The US is providing intelligence-gathering assistance to the French, and officials would not rule out having American aircraft land there to provide airlift and logistical support. Panetta said the US was still working through the details of assistance it would provide France.

A meeting of EU foreign ministers on Thursday is expected to define what kind of support will be provided to the African mission in Mali.

The Mali government contradicted other reports that the Islamists who seized control of Diabaly had entered the country from Mauritania. "The people in Diabaly are bandits who fled there from the north," Manga Dembele, the minister of communication, told the Guardian at the government headquarters in Bamako. "They have come to seek refuge in the town and they are hiding in the population."

But relations with Mauritania to Mali's west and Algeria to the north have been fraught in recent months, with accusations that both countries have harboured Islamists who crossed porous desert borders to stock up on supplies.

"We are not worried the Islamists will arrive in Bamako," said Dembele.

Responding to questions about the apparent lack of security in the capital where government offices and ministries have little security and are accessible to members of the public. Dembele said the situation there was under control.

Dembele sought to calm increasing anxiety in Bamako about the existence of Islamist "sleeper cells", which it is feared could launch an attack on the city in response to the mounting campaign against them in the north.