Security Situation in Mali (31 January 2013)January 31, 2013 in Mali, Region Specific Guidance
French and military sources have confirmed that the troops have entered the northern town of Kidal, which is the last major town that is yet to be secured from the Islamist militants. French troops arrived at the airport in Kidal early on Wednesday, just days after capturing two other strategic towns: Gao and Timbuktu. Kidal, which lies 1,500km (930 miles northeast of the capital city of Bamako, was until recently, controlled by Ansar Dine. Although the a heavy sandstorm had halted the operations on Wednesday, conditions are now clearing and the troops may soon be able to continue with their deployment into Kidal. MS Risk advises those who are still in the country, that the current security and political situation remains to be fluid and therefore can change at any given moment. There remains a high level of threat from terrorism and attacks can occur at any time. The death of two Malian soldiers, who were killed when their vehicle hit a landmine south-west of Gao, is a reminder that vigilance is necessary. French troops have warned that landmines or homemade bombs may be lying around the regions of the recently liberated towns and that they were likely placed their by the fleeing insurgents.
While France is currently entering into the final phase of its military intervention, a great deal of work still remains to be done in order to reconnect the two regions of the country and to stabilize both the political and security conditions throughout it. While it seems that the quick advance by the French and Malian troops exposed a weakness of the Islamist rebels that were holding the northern region of the country, these rebels still pose a threat, not only to the country, but to the region itself. The next phase will focus on flushing these rebels out of the vast cross-border desert region, in what French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has indicated will signify a “turning-point” in France’s intervention.
Currently, French troops are continuing to secure Kidal while France is preparing to hand over the towns that it has captured to an African force that has already begun to deploy to Mali. So far, there are an estimated 2,000 African soldiers, mainly from Chad and Niger, on the ground in Mali. It will now by the job of the African Union-backed force, the International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA), to root out the al-Qaeda-linked insurgents who have fled into the desert and the mountainous regions in the northern part of the country. This mountainous region, located east of Kidal, covers some 250,000 sq km (96,525 sq miles).
While successful at a tactical and operational level, the French intervention has in some respects demonstrated to the insurgents that they will never be successful in open combat. This increases the risks of scattering the insurgents into a sustained guerrilla threat where the previous warnings of kidnapping, nuisance attacks and terrorist incidents will become amplified. This threat may emanate from Mali but will pose a risk to regional countries.