January 31, 2013

French and Malian Troops Recapture Remaining Islamist-controlled Cities

Fifteen days ago I reported on the French intervention in Mali, Operation Serval, and the progress they have made in that time. Since January 14th, French and Malian forces have taken back two of the remaining major urban centers in Northern Mali: Timbuktu, Gao, and are on the verge of recapturing the distant Northeastern town of Kidal.

France has also increased the troop presence from roughly 400 troops on the ground three weeks ago to roughly 2,100 as of January 30th with another 1000 supporting from neighboring countries. The Islamists have  now been pushed back to their Saharan desert hideouts – a portion of Mali the size of Texas.

The issue at hand is that the French government has already declared that this was going to be a quick campaign to retake the North and hand over the reigns to the Mali government. With the remaining cities taken from the Islamists, there is little left for French troops on the ground. The French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has already declared that their soldiers will be pulled out of Mali very soon. The original plan was to recapture territory, not to eradicate the threat of AQIM and their allies. France has no desire to undertake a counter-insurgency campaign throughout the Saharan desert.

French and Malian Troops Recapture Remaining Islamist-controlled Cities

I’ve been following the operation carefully and certain red flags have arisen. The first is the obvious: where are the French and Mali combat casualties? Aside from the helicopter pilot killed during the opening day of the conflict there have been no reports of any KIA nor even any French wounded. This tells me that the Islamists gave up the cities without a fight in order to retreat to their sanctuaries. Timbuktu, a city of 30,000 people was recaptured with “no resistance” on January 27th according to French officials. Kidal in the Northeast was captured by the rebel Tuareg movement from the Islamists and welcomed the French soldiers as they landed at the airport. Gao, a city of 50,000, was also retaken by allied forces and the only reported combat by the French was a short firefight that left 15 Islamists dead as friendlies approached the city.

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  • Allwet

    @momengineer  @TimUFR We are all victims of a very "agendized" media , of which is none  is held liable for the accuracy of their statements, nor the glaring omissions .Long , low key deployments are key if you want to keep your "in country cadre" to a minimum  with maximized results.Lessons learned ,are lessons passed on, versus a new bull in the china shop every coupla years.Not to mention media presence is probably a minimal factor-what a blessing that would be! Interesting stuff indeed Tim , and your history comment is dead on target.

  • TimUFR

    @momengineer hm, a bit better, maybe but then not by much. I've moved from France to North Carolina 6 months ago, and I don't see such a big different in attention span when it comes to anything serious and related to foreign/defense policy. People spend too much time reading the news instead of History books. In the case of Mali, recent events looks a lot like the initial capture of Timbuktu by the French army in 1893. The main difference is the presence of djihadists.

  • momengineer

    @TimUFR Sorry, TimUFR, I had missed your statement on the 26 yrs in Chad....I do feel like the american public is the ADHD poster child of the world in terms of attention span...perhaps European countries are a bit better...

  • TimUFR

    @momengineer well as I said Opération Epervier in Chad has been going on for 26 years. That's a generation right there. Every soldier and airman that I know has been deployed there one time at least. Most multiple times. And we've actually kept forces in Africa for generations. I can't tell you what our politicians will decide, but as far as the army is concerned, they think it's just one more long term african mission and that it will still be going on in 10 years or more. Being based and deployed in Africa is really business as usual in the French armed forces. It's been going on for generations. Although, your comment is true as far as the media and public is concerned.

  • StormR

    @momengineer  @TimUFR  "What is a "long time" for the french, is considered a "short time" for those who  think in terms of generations.".     Yes, that's the hard lesson that the US has learned.