The subject of this post was brought on by something I read this morning on a news article. To quote the article:

By fighting alongside Malian forces, “France is signing a death warrant for French people around the world, opening the gates of hell,” Hamaha said. “This will be a long war…more dangerous than Afghanistan and Iraq.”

I couldn’t help but chuckle at the bold statement. How exactly are you going to back this threat up, Mr. Omar Hamaha, commander of Ansar Dine (an Islamist movement allied with al-Qaeda). So I began thinking about and researching what ground combat would actually look like in Mali, how would it compare to our experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, and what are French forces on the ground most likely expected to face.


Map: Mali compared to Texas
Map: Mali compared to Texas

Mali is a large country, almost twice the size of Texas. I’ve attached a comparison map for all of you visual learners out there. The nation is shaped sort of like a butterfly. The Northern wing (or the portion on the right for all of you hopeless humans out there) is Northern Mali (also known as Azawad) – where all the fighting is. Northern Mali in its entirety is located in the Sahara desert. while the Southern portion is more fertile and “green.”

In terms of elevation, Northern Mali consists of rolling hills and high plateaus that range anywhere from 600 to 1600 feet. The highest point is located far to the Northeast near the Algerian border: Adrar des Ifoghas, about 3200 feet, which is more of series of rock formations rather than mountains. This compares little to Afghanistan, in which soldiers are commonly operating in the rugged mountains at elevations easily above 7,000 feet. I’m simply saying there will be no “mountain hideaways” in Northern Mali for Islamists to operate out of.

Mobility in Northern Mali would be of little issue for the majority of military vehicles, foot patrols are very do-able, and helicopters should be able to get anywhere in the region without too much of a problem. There are certain environmental hazards such as severe sandstorms, one of which claimed the life of a U.S. Special Forces soldier a few years ago during training operations with Malian forces.


Mali has a population of roughly 14.5 million people – 90% of which lives in the South. Roughly 1.3 million people live in the North, spread throughout the large deserts in small communes or living the nomadic lifestyle. The two biggest cities in Northern Mali are Timbuktu (30,000 people) and Gao (50,000 people) – both controlled by the Islamists.

Let’s compare the populations of the areas throughout Iraq (total 31 million) and Afghanistan (total 35 million) that were typical hotbed of insurgent activity: