Despite being crushingly defeated by the joint efforts of a French/Malian/West African military effort last year, Northern Mali Jihadists may be slowly crawling out of their hideouts, like desert ghosts, as France prepares to launch a new mission to fight those groups.
Earlier this month, Ansar Dine’s leader, Iyad Ag Aly, resufaced in a rare, 24-minute video broadcast on Youtube. The video has since been deleted by the website due to its policy violation.
In the video, the former cigar-smoking, whiskey-imbibing rebel Tuareg leader turned-Jihadist, threatened former colonial power France and its allies should they remain in Mali and expand their reach, especially in areas formerly controlled by the combined forces of Mali’s Jihadist unholy trinity: Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Movement for Unicity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) and Ansar Dine, a group of Tuareg fighters who gave up the nomad people’s struggle for independence to embrace religious holy war.
“We will get rid of the Crusaders, led by France,” the reclusive Ag Aly boasted. Interesting comment, since an overwhelming majority of soldiers filling the ranks of the aforementioned coalition pulled from Mali and the neighbouring countries of Chad and Niger are of the Muslim faith as well.
While they’ve been mostly been dwelling in the mountains of the Iforas bordering Mali and Algeria for most the the past year, Mali jihadists have been trying to reorganize and come back to the strongholds they once held from June 2012 to March 2013 prior to being driven to the mountains by French, Malian and West African forces. Since then, a 6,000-strong UN peacekeeping force took over duties, but a phantom menace has kept looming over cities like Kidal and Tessalit, where AQIM, Ansar Dine and MUJWA have been actively trying to recruit fighters and affirm their presence, while maintaining a low profile. Civilians from those areas have been fearing a return of suicide bombing and other terrorist tactics since then, while putting little faith in the UN forces’ ability to prevail.
Meanwhile, on August 1, France launched a new phase in its counter-terrorism operations in West Africa. Operation Barkhane will see the deployment of 3,000 soldiers, not just from the European nation leading the mission, but also from all five countries comprising “Africa’s G5” – Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad.
Regional bases will be set in Gao (Ansar Dine’s stronghold during the Mali Jihadist occupation) and Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso as well as in Niger’s capital, Niamey, with forward operating bases in Tessalit (Mali), Madama (Niger) and Faya-Largeau (Chad), near known terrorist areas of operations. Headquarters will be in N’djamena (Chad’s capital) and rear-guard bases will be located in Dakar, Abidjan and Libreville. Air support will be provided by six Rafale and Mirage 2000 fighter jets, 3 drones (1 Reaper, 2 Harfang) and 20 helicopters.
But while the current state of disrepair of these African countries’ militaries justify this kind of support from France given the resources Mali Jihadists and their allies in the desert possess (technical trucks, heavy machine-guns, anti-aircraft weapons), it seems the old colonial power is making a comeback in its former sphere of influence. “There is no end date to this operation,” declared Barkhane’s commander, colonel Gilles Jaron.
(Featured Image Courtesy: France 24)
An upcoming piece will address the issues surrounding France’s return in the old colonies.