Military efforts combining French, Malian and most recently troops from Niger and Chad have quickly managed to uproot the various militia groups in Northern Mali and driven them into deserted mountain areas. During the last weeks we have seen an unprecedented drive against a common goal among such diverse actors as France, Algeria, Mali, AU and the West African states. This is in itself a victory. It may be argued that without the backup by troops from Niger and Chad, French and Malian troops would indeed have managed to retake Gao and Timbuktu and secured the territory south of the Niger river, however daring the push to take Kidal should be seen in the light of troops support from Niger and Chad. With these two countries having support lines across their respective borders more long-term control over the Kidal region becomes a possibility. At the same time involvement by Nigerien troops risks creating new problems with their Tuareg populations in that country.
The ease with which troops have retaken territory from northern militia groups shows several things: first that the number of militia are much fewer than foreign observers have anticipated, secondly that the military organization is weaker and also that these groups have less arms and ammo than has been estimated (it should lead to new speculations of where the advanced military equipment that got missing in Libya went as it hardly went to Mali), thirdly it points out that these militias have rather limited support by the civilian population. All these are good signs for Mali and the sub-region; however it is difficult to believe that the extremist groups will just vanish. Northern Mali is a vast and inaccessible territory where it is easy to hide and borders to neighboring countries are porous. Furthermore some of these groups form part of regional trading networks with international ties and even Big Men in Bamako will likely continue to trade with them. Finally international intrusions like the French/West African will typically lead yet others in Northern Mali to join militias as resistance will rise. If the West African PKO that we will see taking over from French ground forces will not proceed with great care radicalization will be on the rise.
February 10, 2013 at 2:31 pm
Is it necessarily the case that the lack of resistance shows lack of force size, organisation and equipment for the militias? Do you have any reports I can look at for this?
I’m just thinking that perhaps it could also suggest a more long-term degree of thinking from the militia groups – better to retreat, regroup, and wait for French withdrawal, rather than fight an unwinnable war in the open. Carryout suicide attacks and guerrilla raids in the meantime. Thought this article was interesting in this regard: