Author Topic: Mali - Canada // Political - Military Status/updates.  (Read 16161 times)

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Mike Blais

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Why the conflict in Mali matters
« Reply #15 on: January 16, 2013, 10:24:16 AM »
Q and A: Why the conflict in Mali matters

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 Andy Johnson,
Published Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 9:02AM EST

The world is watching closely as French and African troops square off against Islamist rebels in northern Mali, with some predicting the conflict could develop into full blown war if the militants' advance isn't stopped quickly.

John Thompson, a senior terrorism expert with the Mackenzie Institute, sat down with CTV News to explain more about the conflict, and its implications for the region and the world.

Mali was once a model of democracy and stability in Africa. What went wrong?

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Tensions have been building in Mali in recent years as militants, some linked to the terrorist group al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, established a foothold in the country's north. AQIM is one of al Qaeda's oldest franchises, and has recently been accessing weapons, ammunition and perhaps most importantly, experience, from the conflict in Libya, Thompson said.

Libya’s former dictator Moammar Gadhafi recruited fighters from across North Africa to fight under his flag in the dying days of his dictatorship, including many from Mali. When those fighters returned home in 2011, they were well-trained and equipped to launch an insurgency. Those efforts gained steam after a military coup brought down the democratic government in March 2012, creating a leadership vacuum in the country which the militants capitalized on.

While the military was distracted with the coup, rebel militia groups were able to take over the three northern regions of Mali, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee to southern Mali and neighbouring countries such as Mauritania and Senegal. They've been destroying cultural sites in the region, including shrines in the famed city of Timbuktu, similar to the destruction Taliban carried out in Afghanistan.

Who are the key players?

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has been around since the 1990s when it was formed in Algeria to fight that country's secular government -- at the time the militant group was called the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, before the name was changed in 2007.

The group is now considered one of the most dangerous and well-funded of al Qaeda's affiliates, carrying out kidnappings for ransom, training other al Qaeda groups on financial management, and carving out a base in northern Mali for militant training and even for use as a hub to ship narcotics to Europe and weapons to other Islamist groups in Africa. The hardline militants have also imposed Shariah law in the region and hope to enforce it across the entire country.

Mali is currently under a unity government appointed after the coup in March 2012, and is being urged by countries such as Canada to hold democratic elections to establish new leadership. In the meantime, African nations are sending in several thousand troops to help fight the rebels. France is helping, carrying out airstrikes and bringing in ground forces, while several other Western nations, including Canada and Germany, are providing "logistical" help to the effort.

Could African troops handle this on their own?

Troops from the African Union have been growing in confidence and competence in recent years, largely due to their experience fighting Al-Shabaab militants in Somalia. But while they do have boots on the ground, the Africans are lacking high-tech equipment such as spy planes, drones or long-range, self-guided missiles designed to hit small targets at great distances. However, Thompson said those shortfalls could be covered by developed nations, such as Canada, which is taking on a support role while staying out of direct combat.

Does Mali have the potential to become another Afghanistan?

It's unlikely that Mali will become another Afghanistan, Thompson said, largely due to its location and history. Mali has an established record as a democratic country -- a model that has been held up to the rest of Africa as an example of how an African nation can thrive under democracy. As a result, the Malian people aren't inclined to offer widespread support to Islamist militants. Compared with Afghanistan, Mali is also much more supportive of foreign intervention and troops are less likely to face the risk of suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices that were a part of everyday life for forces there.

Is Canada contributing enough to help make a difference in Mali?

Canada has sent a C-17 Globemaster transport plane to Mali, along with 35 Canadian Forces troops. However, the plane and troops have only been committed for one week, and are going to Mali under the explicit caveat that they will not participate in combat efforts, but will instead provide a support role to French troops. Thompson said Canada has been investing in Mali in recent years, considering it a beacon of democracy in the region. Now, he suggested, would be a good time to back up that financial investment with more military support. He said a co-ordinated air assault, similar to that launched against Gadhafi in Libya, could quickly put an end to the rebels' advances.

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Mike Blais

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Re: Mali - Political // Military Status.
« Reply #16 on: January 16, 2013, 10:32:57 AM »

Mali: who is doing what?

France and UK are among several countries involved in operation against rebels in northern Mali


France has sent at least 750 troops to Mali and officials have said that number could be greatly increased if necessary. The first on the ground have been Foreign Legionnaires and marines. An armoured column has arrived in Bamako from Ivory Coast and is due to move north.

France is using four Mirage 2000D and four Rafale fighter jets, two C135 refuelling tankers, plus reconnaissance jets and a squadron of helicopter gunships armed with anti-tank missiles and cannon.

West Africa (Ecowas)

Nigeria will be sending 900 troops as part of a 3,300-strong west African force. The first Nigerian company is due to arriveon Wednesday today, with hundreds more expected in the next few days. Burkina Faso will send 500 soldiers to Mali and another 500 to help seal the border. Senegal and Togo will also deploy 500 soldiers as part of the Ecowas force. Benin will send 300. Ivory Coast, Ghana, Niger and Guinea have also pledged troops. However, doubts have been raised over how long it will take to get the Ecowas force operational, and over its lack of training in extreme desert conditions.


Two C-17 transport aircraft, one of which has arrived in Mali, are being provided. The second, delayed by mechanical problems, arrived in Paris on Tuesday , and was due to take off for Mali in the evening. The Ministry of Defence said the UK contribution would last one week. No troops would be sent, but British troops could be involved in training the Malian army.


The Pentagon is contributing transport planes, air refuelling tankers, spy planes and drones. However, Pentagon officials told Foreign Policy magazine that legal obstacles had to be overcome before US planes could be deployed as Washington broke off relations with Mali after last year's coup.


Belgium is expected to contribute two C-130 transport planes and a medivac helicopter.


A C-17 is due to arrive in France en route to Mali.


"Logistics, medical or humanitarian support" have been offered, although it is not clear exactly what it will send.


Copenhagen has dispatched a C-130 transport plan to Bamako to help ferry troops and equipment.

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France’s Hollande presses PM for more Canadian help in Mali
« Reply #17 on: January 17, 2013, 07:56:54 AM »

France’s Hollande presses PM for more Canadian help in Mali


OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail

Published Wednesday, Jan. 16 2013, 9:29 PM EST

Last updated Wednesday, Jan. 16 2013, 10:47 PM EST

France’s President, François Hollande, has personally asked Stephen Harper to extend Canada’s contribution of a heavy-lift cargo plane for Mali, and to offer more transport help, testing Mr. Harper’s efforts to set strict limits on Canada’s military assistance.

The request, made in a direct leader-to-leader telephone call on Tuesday afternoon, comes as France is ramping up operations in an expanding war against Islamists in Mali’s north.

On Wednesday, French troops launched their first ground assault against Islamist rebels after six days of air strikes.

Mr. Harper’s government has insisted its commitment of military support is not a slippery slope to deeper involvement, offering one massive C-17 transport for one week. Now France is seeking a more open-ended extension and more air-transport help – as well as encouraging Canada to contribute cash for a West African force.

Mr. Harper, however, provided no immediate answer. “The two leaders agreed to be in touch over the course of the week,” said Mr. Harper’s communications director, Andrew MacDougall. “Canada’s contribution remains one C-17 for one week.”

The Harper government has been seeking, instead, to carve out a diplomatic push as its chief role, pressing, along with allies, for Mali to map a road to restoring democracy after a coup last March that toppled the elected government, and hinting it will offer assistance to the African nation’s beleaguered neighbours.

The coup last March has been one of the reasons Mr. Harper has long shown reluctance to commit military help, as well as skepticism about whether Western assistance would work without effective Malian forces and heavy-lifting by troops from its African neighbours.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird met Tuesday with key envoys close to the conflict: the ambassadors from Mali, France and Ivory Coast, which now chairs the West African regional bloc ECOWAS, whose member nations are preparing a force of 3,300.

Afterward, Mr. Baird said the government will consider what it can do to provide help for Mali’s neighbours, facing a flow of refugees and struggling to muster troops to fight. “We’re certainly prepared to discuss … what we can do on humanitarian support, support for Mali’s neighbours, diplomatic support or support for the restoration of democracy,” Mr. Baird told The Globe and Mail.

Canadian diplomats have formally registered their concern with Mali’s government that the war not be an excuse for failing to return the country to democratic, constitutional rule – a message co-ordinated with U.S. diplomats.

Several Western nations are concerned that the so-called “political track” may be lost in war. With Ottawa providing more than $100-million in aid per year before the March coup, some see Canada as one of the few countries with some pull with Mali. “It’s the French, Americans and Canadians more than anyone else,” one Western diplomat said.

Mr. Baird raised the Canadian call for the restoration of democracy Tuesday with Malian ambassador Ami Diallo Traoré, who said Mali wants to return to constitutional rule. But Mali also faces a dramatic threat, according to France’s ambassador, Philippe Zeller, who was also at the meeting. Mr. Baird said later that returning the country to legitimate rule is key to “long-term stability,” but also said the immediate threat is “a counterpoint, obviously.”

Mr. Harper’s long reluctance to commit hard military assistance for the Mali mission was coloured in part by the fact that it was led by a transitional government essentially controlled by the coup plotters, according to a senior government source. Justifying a military mission to the public, in a far-off African country, would be even harder when the good guys were dubious.

For months before France intervened directly, as plans for a West African force for Mali were being drawn up, French officials had approached Canada to consider making a contribution of trainers, logistical support and special forces.

Mr. Harper was reluctant. Though his government is concerned about security in the region, he doesn’t see Mali itself as a key strategic interest for Canada, according to a government source.

And he was skeptical about the forces Canadians would be sent to help: Mali’s army is weak and ECOWAS was moving slowly to muster troops for Mali. The Prime Minister had doubts Canadian assistance could work without effective local forces and Africans willing to do the heavy lifting.

France’s intervention changed Mr. Harper’s willingness to offer some military help, but not his direction. For a key ally, he was willing to provide some non-combat support – emphasizing it would not slide to deeper involvement.

On Saturday, the French embassy’s defence attaché contacted Canadian defence officials, who, after weekend discussions, indicated Ottawa was willing to offer a giant C-17 strategic-lift plane. With that understanding, France’s defence minister made a formal request to Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

Now, Mr. Hollande, who called with thanks, is asking for more – a longer tour for the C-17 and additional air transport – for a French mission with an unknown end date.

“We don’t know the duration. We know the objectives,” said Mr. Zeller, the French ambassador. “And in consequence, the maintenance of logistical assistance from all partners who can provide it, particularly air logistics, will be crucial for the pursuit of the operations.”

Mike Blais

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Re: Mali - Political // Military Status.
« Reply #18 on: January 17, 2013, 07:59:19 AM »
French airstrikes hit key Malian town of Diabaly held by Islamists, fighting erupts in Konna
By Baba Ahmed, The Associated Press January 17, 2013 5:40 AM

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French defense minister Jean Yves Le Drian addresses reporters during a press conference held at the defense ministry in Paris, Tuesday Jan. 15, 2013. Map at left shows the operations zone in Mali. France carried out new airstrikes overnight against Islamist fighters in central Mali.(AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)

BAMAKO, Mali - Fighting erupted between Islamists and Malian soldiers in the city whose capture by militants first prompted French military intervention, while French forces kept up their bombardments of another key town, fleeing residents said Thursday.

Mali soldiers claimed to have recaptured the central town of Konna, although this could not be confirmed, while the French continued airstrikes on the Islamist-held town of Diabaly, at least 200 kilometres (125 miles) away.

Residents who escaped Diabaly said French bombs continued to hit Islamist positions there overnight but they said the town remained under the control of the radical Islamists who have advanced south after controlling northern Mali for nearly a year.

"There were bombardments last night in Diabaly and civilians have continued to come here to Niono, said Oumar Coulibaly, a resident of Niono. "This morning I saw people who came from Diabaly and the Islamists still occupy the city."

Diabaly, a town of some 35,000 people, is just 250 miles (400 kilometres) northeast of the capital of Bamako.

Meanwhile, France has increased its troops strength in Mali to 1,400, said French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

"The actions of French forces, be it air forces or ground forces, are ongoing," said Le Drian in Paris Thursday. "They took place yesterday, they took place last night, they took place today, they will take place tomorrow."

Fleeing residents have said that Islamist extremists have taken over their homes in Diabaly and were preventing other people from leaving. They said the militants were melting into the population and moving only in small groups on streets in the mud-walled neighbourhoods to avoid being targeted by the French.

"They stationed themselves outside my house with a heavy weapon, I don't know what sort it was. After that came the bombing, which went on from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and after that, one of them (rebels) jumped over my garden wall to grab the keys to my car," said Thiemogo Coulibaly.

In apparent retaliation for the French offensive, the same group controlling northern Mali seized a natural gas complex in neighbouring Algeria, taking dozens of people hostage, including Americans. Two foreigners were killed.

In the narrow waist of central Mali, fighting reignited in the town of Konna, which the Islamists attacked last week and seized a day before French launched its military offensive.

A Malian military official, who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists, said the fighting began Wednesday between Malian soldiers and Islamists from the group Ansar Dine.

The official claimed that Malian forces had forced the Islamists out of Konna, a claim that could not be immediately corroborated.

Abdrahmane Guirou, a nurse, said four wounded soldiers had been brought to the local hospital.

The first troops from Mali's neighbours are expected Thursday, nearly a week after French forces launched their military operation to dislodge al-Qaida-linked militants from a harsh desert region the same size as France.

Aboudou Toure Cheaka, special representative for the president of the Economic Community of West African States commission, said the troops from Nigeria would be arriving sometime Thursday and forces from Niger are to be deployed soon along the Niger-Mali border.

France expects to ramp up to a total of 2,500 soldiers that will include French Foreign Legionnaires. It has committed helicopter gunships, fighter jets, surveillance planes and refuelling tankers in the fight against the Islamists who seized control of northern Mali last year.

A former French colony, Mali once enjoyed a reputation as one of West Africa's most stable democracies with the majority of its 15 million people practicing a moderate form of Islam. That changed in April 2012, when Islamist extremists took over the main cities in the country's north amid disarray following a military coup, and began enforcing their version of strict Shariah law.

Security experts warn that the extremists are carving out their own territory in northern Mali from where they can plot terror attacks in Africa and Europe. Estimates of how many fighters the Islamists have range from less than 1,000 to several thousand. The militants are well-armed and funded and include recruits from other countries.

Despite training from U.S. and other Western trainers, the Mali army has been ineffective in fighting the militants.

Last December, the U.N. Security Council passed a cautious resolution, outlining steps that needed to be taken before an international military intervention, one which diplomats said would not occur before at least September.

But in a surprise move last week, French President Francois Hollande authorized airstrikes in Mali to stop a sudden southward push by three Islamist rebel groups. The Islamists warned that France had "opened the doors of hell" and that all French nationals would pay, as would any country that helped the military intervention.

France's allies have offered vocal support for the country's military operation in Mali, but when it comes to sending troops or weapons, they are agreeing to the bare minimum: a transport plane here and there, a handful of support staff and a lot of promises to think about it.

American officials say they are providing intelligence to its European ally and are considering deploying American aircraft to land in Mali for airlift or logistical support. The U.S. is offering possible surveillance drones, too, but won't entertain notions of sending American troops to keep terrorists from carving out a safe haven like they did in Afghanistan before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"We share the same goals as the French and of the states in the region. We support what the French are attempting to do," said Johnnie Carson, the top U.S. diplomat for Africa, speaking Wednesday at the Wilson Center in Washington

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Re: Mali - Political // Military Status.
« Reply #19 on: January 17, 2013, 08:38:21 PM »
Canadian C-17 completes first cargo drop to Mali in support of France

Mike Blanchfield
The Canadian Press

Last updated Thursday, Jan. 17 2013, 8:32 PM EST

Canada’s C-17 heavy-lift military transport plane touched down on Malian soil for the first time Thursday carrying a French military armoured vehicle among other equipment. The aircraft departed Le Tube, France, and landed in Bamako, Mali’s capital, arriving at 10 a.m. local time (5 a.m. ET).

Jay Paxton, spokesman for Defence Minister Peter MacKay, said the aircraft also carried 900 kilograms of batteries.

The C-17 airlift is part of an international effort to equip French and African forces for an assault on the al-Qaeda-linked militants that occupy Mali’s north.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered France the plane for one week, but French President Francois Hollande has asked him to consider extending the mission.

The Harper government hasn’t made any decisions on an extension.

Mr. Harper has made clear that Canada will not send combat troops to join the French and African forces currently on the ground.

Canada is dispatching troops, including special forces, and helicopters to Mali’s western neighbour, Mauritania, to take part in a regularly scheduled U.S.-led military training exercise called Flintlock 13.

However, Mr. Paxton dismissed any suggestion that those military assets could be diverted to the international efforts in Mali.

“Flintlock is completely separate from Mali,” Mr. Paxton said.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said if Canada’s military contribution increases, the matter should be brought before the House of Commons for debate.

“Certainly this is a decision to be made by the Parliament of Canada,” Mr. Mulcair said Thursday.

“It will really depend the situation at the time we discuss this, and the situation on the ground. As you know it’s constantly evolving.”

France increased its troop numbers to 1,400 from 800, and it may rise as high as 2,500.

France’s ambassador to Canada, Philippe Zeller, has told The Canadian Press that his country is grateful for the contribution of the C-17 and doesn’t for see any need for Canada to send troops.

But he did say France is expecting Canada and the rest of the international community to offer financial support of the military operations going forward.

European Union foreign ministers Thursday approved a military training mission to Mali, and ordered it to be sped up to mid-February.

The EU also called on Mali’s current military rulers, which took control of the country in a coup last March, to begin democratic reforms.

“Political progress is essential in order to ensure Mali’s long-term stability. To that end, the EU urges the Malian authorities to adopt and implement a roadmap for the restoration of democracy and constitutional order in Mali as soon as possible,” the EU said in a statement.

“It encourages a national inclusive dialogue open to the northern populations and to all groups which reject terrorism and recognize the country’s territorial integrity.”

Canada dispatched its ambassador to Mali earlier this week to deliver that same message.

Mike Blais

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French cheer — but question —Mali intervention
« Reply #20 on: January 18, 2013, 05:02:16 PM »
French cheer — but question —Mali intervention

PARIS—Inside cafés, on talk radio and throughout the streets of Paris, there is hot debate on why exactly modern-day France finds itself at war in Africa.

Last week, French President François Hollande took decisive action by intervening in Mali with the hope of stopping Islamist extremist activity. Nearly 1,400 French troops are reportedly in the west-African nation that was once a colony of France. Mali became independent in 1960.

Support throughout France for what they refer to as “l’opération serval,” is mixed. Some are immensely proud their country has stood up to help stabilize the extremely poor nation and believe France had no choice. Others question the move and wonder why Mali and not Syria.

“The French needed to go to Mali,” said French citizen Far Hocele, who is also Algerian, said in Montreuil, a suburb of Paris where many Malians live.

“There are only two armies in Europe that could—the French or the British. If the French don’t go, it will be awful. It will be like Afghanistan.”

Mali is surrounded by Algeria, Mauritania and Niger and other nations, noted Hocele. “This is not just about Mali. The other neighbouring countries are rich in resources. This could potentially be very big. Mali is a strategic place.”

On newsstands, both French magazines and newspapers expressed differing views. In the popular French news magazine L’Express, the cover features Hollande with a bold yellow and white headline that reads: “Islamisme: Les guerres de Francois Hollande.” Or, “Islam: The wars of Francois Hollande.”

READ MORE: Mali fighting blocks aid to key area held by Islamists

Full coverage of the Mali crisis

And in the daily, Le Monde, which has devoted pages of coverage to the war every day, an opinion piece asked if France is truly prepared for an intervention in Mali and what the chances of success are.

Hollande has ordered tightened security in certain areas throughout France as there is fear it could become a target due to the military offensive.

Dozens of hostages were taken by armed Islamist extremists at a BP plant on Wednesday in Algeria near the Libyan border. The hostage situation is apparently linked to the French actions in Mali.

However, other than a more vigilant presence of armed soldiers travelling in camouflage in groups of three around tourist sites, it was business as usual in Paris on Friday.

“I am not worried of a terrorist threat,” said David Leuje as he folded sweaters in a store on Avenue de l’Opéra. “It was a good thing for us to go to Mali. We took a stand.”

That seems to be an attitude many Parisians are taking. Christian Pilichowski, who works in the national office of the CGT, the largest French trade union representing 740,000 people, said it was no surprise that France intervened.

Just because France has its own internal problems doesn’t mean it should forget its international obligations, Pilichowski said.

“We can’t say that because of the financial crisis in France and Europe we have nothing to do in Africa,” he said.

But not everyone feels this way.

In Lyon, translator Celine Foggie noted France is no longer Mali’s colonial master and should not have got involved.

“The intervention of France is not only patronizing as a colonialist country can be with its ex-colony, but it is also serving its own financial interest. After all, Mali has petrol, gold and diamonds. And Syria doesn’t,” said Foggie.

Lyon taxi driver Assen Bendriss echoed Foggie’s sentiments. First Nicolas Sarkozy went into Libya and now this, he said.

“Why did Hollande do it? For me, there are more important things for him to do in France,” he said.

In 2011, France was one of the first to act against the Moammar Gadhafi regime.

Sarkozy was criticized by other nations as being late to praise Egypt for its democratic Arab Spring.

His move, with Britain, concerning Libya surprised many but it earned the French leader favour at home.

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Re: Mali - Political // Military Status.
« Reply #21 on: January 19, 2013, 09:54:47 AM »
Mali crisis sees Canada being drawn into another war: Walkom

 Thomas Walkom January 18, 2013

Slowly, inexorably, Canada and the world are being drawn into Mali.

The wise people say intervention is necessary. They say we must prevent the West African nation from becoming a springboard for terrorist attacks on Europe.

The wise people almost always say intervention is necessary. Fifty years ago, equally wise people urged intervention in Vietnam to prevent what was then called the “domino effect” — the fall of Southeast Asia to Communism.

We all know where that went.

Today the dominoes of North Africa are said to be in danger from Islamic terrorists.

For practical politicians, all of this is a nightmare. After Iraq and Afghanistan, the American public is loath to involve itself in another war. As a result, Washington speaks softly and carefully.

Canadians too have been made weary by the Afghan experience. Prime Minister Stephen Harper knows that. That’s why his office has been so reluctant to admit that Canada’s very, very limited commitment to the war in Mali is gradually expanding.

Ottawa originally agreed to send one cargo plane for one week to help French troops in Mali. The French have now publicly asked for more. Mali’s ambassador to Canada says Harper agreed to expand its commitment. The Prime Minister almost certainly has. As the head of a government allied to France, he doesn’t have much choice.

Ah, France. Remember Dien Bien Phu. That was the prolonged battle in 1954 that put an end to France’s vainglorious attempts to subdue its then colony Vietnam. France’s failure at Dien Bien Phu was the catalyst that drew the U.S. into that war.

This time, Paris seems to have again drastically underestimated its foes. According to reports from Mail, the insurgents — a mixture of ethnic separatists and jihadists — are fighting hard. The French went in last week without enough troops and without enough logistical support. That’s why they are now desperate for Canadian, British and American help.

Nor, when the French sent in troops, did anyone on the Western side appear to understand how quickly fighting in obscure Mali could spread. This week’s terror attack on the Amenas gas field in Algeria is a grim reminder that nothing about war is simple.

Algeria has been going through its own internal conflicts since the 1990s. Until now its valuable oil and gas fields were largely spared. That state of affairs has obviously changed.

So what are we to do? In Canada, the opposition New Democrats want a parliamentary debate before committing any more Canadian troops or materiel to Mali. My guess is that the government would be happy to agree — if for no other reason than to share the blame.

The NDP backed Canada’s limited participation in the Libyan war. There is no reason to expect it would act any differently toward Mali.

Alas, Parliament isn’t set to return until Jan. 28.

The rest of us can be forgiven for being confused. Until last week, a significant number of Canadians would have had trouble locating Mali on a map. Now we are being told its fall to these rebels — whoever they are — would threaten Western civilization.

And perhaps it would. But forgive us if we are ever so slightly skeptical. We have heard these stories before.

We were told we had to intervene in Somalia to prevent chaos. We intervened. There is still chaos.

We were told we had to drive Saddam Hussein from Iraq because he was like Hitler. The U.S. intervened. Saddam is dead. But now Iraq is a de facto ally of Iran — which we are told is run by people like Hitler.

Then there was Afghanistan. What was that about again? After 11 years and thousands of deaths, it is hard to remember.

Thomas Walkom’s column appears Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.

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Re: Mali - Political // Military Status.
« Reply #22 on: January 19, 2013, 10:17:12 AM »
West African leaders gather for Mali summit
Leaders gather for Mali summit

Malian soldiers are seen on their way to Niono, Mali, some 270 kilometres north of Bamako, Friday, Jan. 18, 2013. (AP / Thibault Camus)

The Associated Press
Published Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013 7:27AM EST

BAMAKO, Mali -- West African leaders headed to a special Mali summit in Ivory Coast on Saturday to discuss how to step up their role as the French-led military intervention to oust Islamic extremists from power entered its second week.

Neighbouring countries are expected to contribute around 3,000 troops to the operation in Mali, aimed at preventing militants from advancing further south toward the capital.

While some initial contributions from Togo and Nigeria have arrived, concerns about the mission have delayed other countries from sending their promised troops so far.

Charles Koffi Diby, Ivory Coast's foreign affairs minister, said that Mali's neighbours must "face up to the weight of our responsibilities in conducting and co-ordinating military operations in Mali."

At Saturday's meeting, the big issue will be sorting out a central command for the African force, a French official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the sensitive security matters.

Nigerian Gen. Shehu Usman Abdulkadir is expected to be named the force commander.

As the military intervention entered its second week, Malian forces had reclaimed the key town of Konna whose capture prompted the French action, according to French and Malian military officials.

However, phone lines to the town were still down making it difficult to independently corroborate the claim.

France said it was keeping up the pressure around another key town, Diabaly, which was taken by the Islamists on Monday.

French forces have moved around Diabaly to cut off supplies to the Islamist extremists, said a French official who spoke on condition of anonymity to be able to discuss sensitive security matters.

Mali once enjoyed a reputation as one of West Africa's most stable democracies with the majority of its 15.8 million people practicing a moderate form of Islam.

That changed last March, following a coup in the capital which created the disarray that allowed Islamist extremists to take over the main cities in the distant north.

The UN refugee agency said Friday that the fighting in Mali could force as many as 700,000 people to flee their homes in the coming months.

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French special forces a lifeline for Mali soldiers
« Reply #23 on: January 19, 2013, 10:20:28 AM »
French special forces a lifeline for Mali soldiers

By by Michel Moutot (AFP) – 15 minutes ago

MARKALA, Mali — Fighting on the front in Mali to halt a swoop by Islamists descending from the north, French Special Forces have been a lifeline for the country's ill-equipped and demoralised soldiers.

The French military intervention, sparked by the fall of the central town of Konna to Al-Qaeda linked militants over a week ago, saw hundreds of elite, war-hardened soldiers deployed in the west African country on a war footing.

Initially restricted to air power, the French mission codenamed Serval, was soon broadened to include a ground offensive.

A French helicopter pilot died on the very day that Paris launched its operations in the former colony, but the French presence has been a tremendous shot in the arm for the Malian forces.

"When the first French troops arrived, everything changed," said Captain Cheichne Konate. "They were formidable."

"They helped us to reconstitute the defence formations. The men who had left returned. Without them it would be over for us," he said.

The Malian army proved no match for Tuareg separatist rebels -- many of whom had fought for Moamer Kadhafi in Libya -- who took them by surprise when they relaunched a decades-old rebellion in January last year.

As anger rose over their defeats, a group of soldiers overthrew the government in Bamako in a disastrous coup which only made it easier for the Tuareg and their new Islamist allies to seize the vast arid north.

But the Tuareg desert nomads, whose plans for independence were of no interest to the extremists seeking to impose sharia law on the north, were quickly chased out by Islamist fighters who then set out to extend their reach southward.

"To fight a war, you need three essentials: weapons, fighters and cash," Time magazine wrote, something the Islamists have in rich supply.

"Clearly, the Malian army does not have the means to wage this war alone," added Malian defence specialist Kissima Gakou.

A French Special Forces member affirmed this, speaking in the frontline area of Markala, where a strategic bridge is located.

"There are just a handful of brave soldiers who fight for half-an-hour when the bearded ones attack before fleeing," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity and referring to the jihadists.

The French air raids not only halted the progress of the extremists deeper into the government-controlled south but also destroyed most of their bases and ammunition depots.

And later when they launched a ground offensive, the French troops' tactics and superior weaponry also made a huge difference.

A retired French Special Forces officer said the deployment was a flashback to Afghanistan in 2001 when US special operations forces helped the Northern Alliance score stunning tactical victories against the Taliban.

Eric Denece, the head of the French Intelligence Centre think-tank, said the elite troops were also trained to "galvanise, train, supervise and accompany friendly forces in combat.

"Their presence comforts and makes the local army, which knows the terrain, much more efficient," he said.

Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved

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Re: Mali - Canada // Political - Military Status/updates.
« Reply #24 on: January 22, 2013, 09:19:14 AM »
crisis in west africa
Canada to extend Mali mission


OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail

Published Tuesday, Jan. 22 2013, 6:00 AM EST

The Canadian government will extend the tour of the heavy-lift transport plane shuttling equipment from France to Mali for a military mission.

Initially, Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered the massive C-17 plane for a one-week mission. But France has asked Canada and other nations to provide more air-transport help, including assistance to carry a West African force of 3,300 into Mali.

Now Mr. Harper’s government is set to approve an extension, to be announced later this week.

French troops intervened Jan. 10 to stop the advance of Islamist fighters linked to al-Qaeda who took over Mali’s north in April and who had started to seize government-controlled towns farther south. The advances had raised fears that Mali would fall to jihadists intent on controlling a broad swath of North Africa. Now France insists the country must be stabilized to thwart a threat to the region, and the world.

Mr. Harper’s government has sought to set limits on its contribution to the Mali operations, fearing so-called “mission creep” that will drag Canada into a deeper role. It has ruled out so-called boots on the ground involved in combat in Mali. But Mr. Harper and Foreign Minister John Baird also have stressed that the Canadian government wants to see African leadership in the mission.

It’s not yet clear how long the C-17 extension will last, or whether Ottawa will meet France’s request for more planes in addition to the C-17.

President François Hollande made a general request for additional help when he personally asked Mr. Harper to extend the tour of the C-17 during a phone call on Wednesday.

France’s Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, said in a radio interview Sunday that Canada has offered to transport West African troops into Mali.

The Harper government on Monday refused to confirm or to comment on the extension.

Mr. Fabius also said European countries will help transport African troops. “There is transportation that will be partly by the Africans themselves, partly by the Europeans and partly by the Canadians … and the Russians have proposed to provide means of transport for the French, so it’s fairly diverse,” Mr. Fabius said.

French officials said Sunday about 400 African troops had arrived, but the lion’s share are still preparing to to be deployed in coming weeks. West African nations in the ECOWAS bloc have pledged a force of 3,300. Chad, a Central African nation that houses a French military base, has offered 2,000 troops.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who has also ruled out a combat role, indicated Monday that he is preparing to send more transport and surveillance help for Mali. His government has so far provided two C-17s, offered intelligence support and said it will send military trainers as part of a European training mission.

But in addition to requests from France for more air transport, Mr. Harper’s government is being pressed by West African nations to beef up its support for their Mali mission.

N’Goran Kouamé, the ambassador to Canada from Ivory Coast, which chairs the West African regional bloc ECOWAS, said that while African nations are preparing to send troops – his country will send a battalion – they will need logistical support and backing from Western nations such as Canada.

“We need logistical support for these troops, or we’re sending them to the slaughterhouse.”

In Ottawa, the Ivorien ambassador made clear that West African nations are including Canada in that call for assistance.

“We’d like a greater involvement from Canada in this crisis, because it’s not a Malian crisis, nor an African one, nor a French one. It’s an international crisis,” Mr. Kouamé said. “Military, logistical support, humanitarian, financial – it’s all of that.”

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427, CSOR heading to Africa 2
« Reply #25 on: January 26, 2013, 09:28:35 AM »

427, CSOR heading to Africa 2   

By Sean Chase, Daily Observer

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 10:24:54 EST AM

CFB PETAWAWA - Helicopters and personnel from the base will deploy to Western Africa in the next few weeks to support training of the region’s soldiers, the Department of National Defence has confirmed.

An advance team of personnel from the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) is already in Niger in preparation for involvement in Flintlock 13, a multinational exercise that will conducted by the U.S. Africa Command in February and March.

They will be supported by a small detachment of CH-146 Griffon helicopters, pilots, flight engineers and ground maintenance crews from 427th Special Operations Aviation Squadron (SOAS). The Petawawa deployment will not extend to the troubled country of Mali, the department said Monday.

“Exercise Flintlock 13 involves the capacity building of several countries within the Western Africa Sahel Region which contributes to regional security,” Maj. Doug MacNair, a public affairs officer with Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) told the Daily Observer. “However, Mali is not participating in the exercise, nor are there plans for Canada to train Malian forces.”

CSOR operators will provide training in reconnaissance, marksmanship, land navigation, and other basic military skills to Nigerien forces in their country. Closer to the start of Exercise Flintlock 13, the CSOR personnel and the Nigerien soldiers will move to the exercise location in Mauritania.

At least 50 Canadian troops will be participating in the exercise. The involvement of 427 Squadron will be limited, noted MacNair.

“These aircraft will provide airlift capability for the exercise participants,” he said. “427 SOAS will not be providing aviation training during Ex Flintlock to any African training partner.”

CSOR had first participated in Exercise Flintlock in 2011. In November, 427 Squadron had travelled to Jamaica in a similar capacity in order to support a joint Canadian Special Operations Forces Command/Jamaica exercise.

Earlier this month,Canada provided one C-17 transport aircraft in a non-combat role to support the operations of its French allies in Mali. The transport was assigned to that role for one week only, DND said. France has sent in 2,000 troops to help Malian forces fight Islamist militants who now control the northern half of the country.

In addition to Canada, the U.K., the U.S., Belgium and Denmark have dispatched transport planes to the region.

Last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated that, while Canada will not consider direct military involvement in Mali, we are prepared to provide “limited and clearly defined logistical support to assist the forces that are intervening in Mali.”

Sean Chase is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist

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Re: Mali - Canada // Political - Military Status/updates.
« Reply #26 on: January 28, 2013, 08:15:56 AM »

Mali extremists torch Timbuktu library’s ancient manuscripts

Krista Larson and Carley Petesch
The Associated Press

SEVARE, MALI—Islamist extremists torched a library containing historic manuscripts in Timbuktu, the mayor said Monday, as French and Malian forces closed in on Mali’s fabled desert city.

Ousmane Halle said he heard about the burnings early Monday.

French troops push toward Timbuktu
“It’s truly alarming that this has happened,” he told The Associated Press by telephone from Mali’s capital, Bamako, on Monday. “They torched all the important ancient manuscripts. The ancient books of geography and science. It is the history of Timbuktu, of its people.”

He said he did not have details or whether the rebels were still in the town.

Ground forces backed by French paratroopers and helicopters took control of Timbuktu’s airport and the roads leading to the town in an overnight operation, a French military official said Monday. It marked the latest success in the two-week-old French mission to oust radical Islamists from the northern half of Mali, which they seized more than nine months ago.

French Col. Thierry Burkhard, the chief military spokesman in Paris, said Monday that the town’s airport was taken without firing a shot.

“There was an operation on Timbuktu last night that allowed us to control access to the town,” he said Monday. “It’s up to Malian forces to retake the town.”

The Timbuktu operation comes a day after the French announced they had seized the airport and a key bridge in a city east of Timbuktu, Gao, one of the other northern provincial capitals that had been under the grip of radical Islamists.

The French and Malian forces so far have met little resistance from the Islamists, who seized northern Mali in the wake of a military coup in the distant capital of Bamako, in southern Mali.

Timbuktu, which lies on an ancient caravan route, has entranced travellers for centuries, is some 1,000 kilometres northeast of Bamako. During their rule, the militants have systematically destroyed UNESCO World Heritage sites in Timbuktu.

A spokesman for the Al Qaeda-linked militants has said that the ancient tombs of Sufi saints were destroyed because they contravened Islam, encouraging Muslims to venerate saints instead of God.

Among the tombs they destroyed is that of Sidi Mahmoudou, a saint who died in 955, according to the UNESCO website.

Timbuktu, long a hub of Islamic learning, is also home to some 20,000 manuscripts, some dating back as far as the 12th century. Owners have succeeded in removing some of the manuscripts from Timbuktu to save them, while others have been carefully hidden away from the Islamists.

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Re: Mali - Canada // Political - Military Status/updates.
« Reply #27 on: January 30, 2013, 07:38:36 AM »

Canadian troops drawn into Mali’s war, despite what Prime Minister Stephen Harper says: Walkom
Now Canadian commandos are involved in a war the government says we're not waging.

 By: Thomas Walkom National Affairs Columnist, Published on Tue Jan 29 2013

Inch by inch, Canada and the West are being drawn into an African war we don’t understand.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper insists Canadian troops are not involved in any meaningful way in Mali’s civil war. But they are.

We now have an unspecified number of special-forces commandos in Mali — in addition to one C-17 cargo plane and the 35 military personnel that go with it.

As usual, Canadians had to find out about the commando deployment from someone other than our own government.

The Star’s report Tuesday came from anonymous sources in the Defence Department. The CBC had to find out from French television that Canadian special forces are also operating in Niger, which borders on Mali.

But then everything about Canada’s role in Mali is treated by Ottawa as a state secret. Canadians learned of the initial C-17 deployment only after Mali’s president tweeted the information on the internet.

When that initial, one-week deployment was extended, we were first told not by our own government but by Mali’s ambassador to Canada.

The pattern continues. On Tuesday, International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino announced that Canada will give Mali $13 million. He said it was for humanitarian aid.

But he made the announcement from Ethiopia where, at a summit hosted by the African Union, other nations had just pledged $455 million to fund a military expedition against Malian rebels.

What are our special forces doing in Mali? Some reports say they are there to protect the C-17 crews. Others say they are guarding Canada’s virtually empty embassy.

If the government follows past practice, it will never say. It claims that commando operations must be secret.

And Niger? French television said Canadian special forces are there for training. It didn’t say whether they were training others or being trained.

Canada is not the only nation being sucked inexorably into Mali. The New York Times reports that the U.S. is planning to base unmanned drones in Niger for use against Malian rebels.

The BBC reports that Britain is sending 330 troops to Mali and neighbouring states.

The French, who have 2,150 troops in place, insist their war aims will soon be achieved.

But The Associated Press quotes a senior U.S. State Department official as saying that the war in Mali is bound to last for “several years.”

Meanwhile, who exactly are we fighting in Mali? The usual government line is that the rebels are Islamic militants set on turning Mali into a terrorist base. But as reports from the ground demonstrate, the reality is far more complicated.

There are at least four different armed rebel groups operating in the country’s north. The National Movement for the Liberation of Azwad, a Tuareg separatist group, claims it holds the town of Kidal. It used to be allied with the Islamist Ansar Dine.

Now, according to AP, the separatists say they want to work with the French against some (but not all) Islamists. But they say they will still fight Mali’s army which, according to reports from Reuters, is said to be busy executing those who look Tuareg in towns liberated by the French.

Ansar Dine, meanwhile, has fractured into two groups, one of which is more pro-Tuareg than the other. Both factions distinguish themselves from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or AQIM.

And AQIM, according to Niger’s Foreign Minister Mohamed Bazoum has — until recently — been working hand in glove with Mali’s government.

In November, Bazoum told the foreign affairs commission of France’s National Assembly that Mali’s former president, deposed last year by the army, had given AQIM free rein in the north in exchange for a share of the terror group’s lucrative kidnapping revenues.

There. I hope all of this explains why we’re militarily involved (or, as the Harper government would say, not militarily involved) in this war.

Thomas Walkom's column appears Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.

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Re: Mali - Canada // Political - Military Status/updates.
« Reply #28 on: February 04, 2013, 11:10:01 PM »

TAYLOR: Mali on tip of larger regional powder keg
1 day ago

A Malian soldier arrives in a convoy at the military base in Timbuktu, Mali, on Saturday. The dispirted army staged a coup last March. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

As one would have expected, the French military deployment into northern Mali has made short work of the rebel forces and their al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb allies.

French air power and armoured columns quickly recaptured all the major towns and villages that had been controlled by the Tuareg separatists since last March. Given the fact that the rebel forces are composed of a loose-knit group of nomadic desert dwellers, it was not surprising that they simply melted away in advance of the French army’s superior weaponry.

Despite the fact that their ranks contained fanatical Islamic fundamentalists, the rebels did not offer up suicidal resistance. Instead, they simply slipped across the numerous undefined, undefended, uncontrolled borders into neighbouring countries such as Niger, Burkina Faso and Algeria, all of which contain a sympathetic Tuareg population.

One does not have to follow the bouncing ball back very far to discover that this recent crisis in northern Mali has its roots in the Libyan rebellion that deposed Moammar Gadhafi in October 2011.

Gadhafi always had a special affection for the Tuaregs and in 2005 he accorded them an unlimited residency permit. It was during this time that the al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb was increasing their activities in the Sahara region and funding their operations through hostage-taking and illegal drug trafficking.

In 2006, Gadhafi called upon the Tuaregs to unite in the struggle to oppose the onset of terrorism. The Tuareg loyalty to Gadhafi paid an unusual dividend to Canadian interests in the spring of 2009. At that time, the Islamic Maghreb had been holding Canadian diplomats Robert Fowler and Louis Guay as hostages.

However, the negotiated release of Fowler and Guay came at a substantial cost. An estimated five million Euros were paid and at least four senior Islamic Maghreb operatives were released from a Malian jail in exchange for the release of the Canadian hostages.

Every deal needs a broker, and in this instance, it was none other than Seif al Islam Gadhafi, Moammar’s eldest son, who used his Tuareg connections to seal the deal.

Canada’s gratitude to the Gadhafis was short-lived. When the eastern tribes in Libya rose in armed revolt in February 2011, Canada was eager to lead the NATO intervention in support of the rebels.

For their part, Tuaregs from the entire Sahara region flocked to defend the green banner of the embattled Gadhafi.

With the might of NATO’s air power backing them and under the direction of Canadian Lt.-Gen. Charles Bouchard, the Libyan rebels eventually crushed the last of the Gadhafi loyalists.

For the Tuaregs who had fought in a lost cause, post-Gadhafi Libya was no longer a welcome place of residence. Armed to the hilt with the uncontrolled stocks of weaponry and munitions from the Libyan armouries, the Tuareg fighters returned en masse to northern Mali.

The Tuareg separatist movement has always been active in this region and this, the most-recent armed insurrection, is the fourth since Mali’s independence from France in 1960.

This time, armed with Libyan weapons and aided by the Islamic Maghreb, the Tuaregs easily defeated the Malian security forces.

The dispirited Malian army, under command of U.S.-trained Capt. Amadou Sanogo, staged a coup last March and ousted President Amadou Toure. Under international pressure to restore civilian authority, Sanogo stepped aside on April 12, 2012, and appointed Dioncounda Traore as the interim president.

A unit of Canadian-trained Malian paratroopers then attempted to mount a counter-coup to reinstate Toure, but Sanogo’s soldiers prevailed. The defeated paratroopers were reportedly tortured and forced to have sex with each other while in captivity before being killed.

Malian security forces, which recently fought alongside the French, are also reported to have committed numerous human rights violations against the Tuareg inhabitants.

While France’s initial military objectives have been met, it is evident that the crisis in Mali is the tip of a much larger regional powder keg. Like stepping on one side of a water balloon, pushing the Islamic Maghreb and Tuareg separatists out of Mali has only built up pressure elsewhere.

Even with the addition of 3,300 troops promised by the Economic Community of Western African States, the Malian security forces will be hard pressed to hold the French military’s gains on their own.

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

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Re: Mali - Canada // Political - Military Status/updates.
« Reply #29 on: February 05, 2013, 09:44:32 AM »
Malians still wary of extremism in wake of liberation

Most of the reports coming from Mali in recent days have spoken of the liberation of the northern part of the country, where extremist jihadists and secular Tuareg rebels have been occupying cities, towns and villages for months.

The jihadists in particular have imposed a harsh form of Shariah law that included amputations of hands and feet as punishment for what they saw as contraventions of Islamic law.

Yet our recent road trip to the city of Gao, centre of much of the jihadist troops, revealed suggestions that the area still isn't secure from the threat of more attacks.

Just last week, French and Malian forces swept into Gao, beating back the militants from the city, sparking scenes of jubilation from the residents who endured under occupation.
French troops dismount to secure a demining team clearing the road near Hambori, northern Mali, on the road to Gao.French troops dismount to secure a demining team clearing the road near Hambori, northern Mali, on the road to Gao. (Jerome Delay/Associated Press)

For the most part, though, journalists were unable to get to Gao to report on the fighting or even its aftermath. They were repeatedly blocked from travelling on the only road north to Gao by the Malian army, citing safety concerns.

So when we saw a chance to make it through, there was no hesitation. We were in the town of Sevare, home to an airfield and a military base, when we learned a convoy of French vehicles would leave the next morning. We were told we could tag along as long as we arrived at the gates of the base by 5 the next morning.

We watched as 61 vehicles — some ready for battle, others acting as lookouts and most trucks loaded with supplies for the troops in Gao — pulled out from the base. We fell in behind, finally able to do what so many other journalists had been unable to: Sail through the checkpoints. Still, that did not make for easy travel.

The convoy moved achingly slowly at points, covering ground carefully, watching for the enemy and alert to danger that was perceived to be getting worse the closer we got to Gao. We ended the day 160 kilometres short of the city after multiple roadside bombs were discovered up the road. It meant a chilly, unexpected night sleeping on the ground, under the stars.

The next morning, the wake-up call came in the form of an explosion nearby, smoke drifting across the sunrise. Startled, we looked to the French soldiers nearby who seemed relaxed as they prepared to leave. One even shouted "reveille" to his colleagues. It was a controlled explosion, we learned later, of the two mines discovered the day before.

That discovery, coupled with a similar bomb that killed four Malian soldiers days before, suggests the extremists may be engaging in new tactics: instead of fighting directly with troops, they will become an insurgency, employing guerrilla tactics similar to the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Chadian troops patrol the streets of Gao after the arrival of French, Chadian and Nigerian troops.Chadian troops patrol the streets of Gao after the arrival of French, Chadian and Nigerian troops. (Jerome Delay/Associated Press)

At the very least, it points to a lack of security around Gao. The French are said to be redeploying troops from Timbuktu to Gao to try to provide that further security.

Once we did arrive in Gao, there were evident signs of the damage done by both the occupation and the battle to take it back. Buildings reduced to rubble by airstrikes, gas stations closed due to fuel shortages and no electricity for most of the day.

Near a field where the Islamists carried out their amputations in full public view, black signs with white writing still stood: they were the stern reminders that up until last week, Shariah law was the law of the land.
Residents' fears

For the residents, those are now difficult memories.

Ibrahim Konta says it was as if they were in prison for nine months. Now he says it's as though they're celebrating independence all over again.

He runs a hotel in Gao, but said the extremists moved in nine months ago.

"I ran one of the oldest and best hotels in Mali, but there's been no work for nine months there. Now that the French have come, we're cleaning it and getting it ready for customers."

His main worry now is that the French will leave and what he called a weak Malian army will fail to protect them, as it did nine months ago when Gao became a city under occupation.