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Feb 5, 2013 | 19:49 GMT

The Counter-Jihadist Offensive in Mali

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The Counter-Jihadist Offensive in Mali

Since launching combat operations against jihadists in northern Mali in mid-January, French forces have seized Diabaly, Konna, Douentza, Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal, pushing back the Islamist offensive and taking control of numerous strategically important airfields along the way. French military operations have allowed troops from neighboring African countries to start deploying to northern Mali as part of a force that had been planned long before the French intervention began. The projected 7,000-member African force will eventually take over after the French withdraw, but will likely continue to receive logistical and air support. About 3,800 African troops have already deployed to Mali. A battalion from Burkina Faso has taken up position at the Niger River crossing in Markala, while contingents from Niger and Chad were airlifted into Gao by France after jihadists destroyed a bridge on their planned route from Niger into Mali. The battalion from Niger moved south to the town of Ansongo as the Chadian contingent of 1,800 troops moved north to Kidal, where it linked up with the French, who now jointly patrol the town. Military operations will now focus more on the mountains north of Kidal, where many jihadists have withdrawn; Islamist fighters had already prepared defensive positions there, including tunnels that hold supplies of fuel and ammunition. France has been bombing these areas while its special operations forces have engaged Islamist fighters on the ground. Non-jihadist Tuareg militias have also been fighting the jihadist elements in the mountains. Apart from the military operations, Bamako will need to engage the non-jihadist Tuareg elements in negotiations to ensure long-term stability in the northern regions of the country. While the offensive has already made a great deal of progress halting and turning back the Islamist offensive, large swaths of the country have not been secured or even cleared. Pockets of jihadist resistance characterized by improvised explosive device attacks, mines, suicide bombings and ambushes could result in numerous reprisal attacks going forward.

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