In a recent article I addressed the terrorists –Al Qaeda in the Mahgreb (AQIM) -- in northern Mali and the UN decision to train an African force to attack and seek to destroy the terrorists in an area the size of Texas. My next article on the subject talked about AQIM’s defenses and introduced the issue of the hostages that are being held in northern Mali.
In the second article I questioned what would happen to the hostages when ECOWAS attacked next fall. That whole discussion of what would happen to the hostages during a western supported offensive moves to the front now with the recent terrorist’ attacks and the resulting counterattack of today. Let me update the situation.
In the last several days Islamic militants attacked and seized the town of Konna and moved about 1,200 Islamist fighters to within 12.5 miles of Mopti, a strategically important town on the frontier between rebel-held and government-held territories. Malian government forces on Friday launched a counter-offensive against the Islamists with reportedly backing from the French, Nigerian and possibly other foreign military. The counter attack was aimed at stemming the advances made by Al-Qaeda-linked radicals.
The counter attack was supported by French aircraft and possibly a Nigerian and French forces. Now that Konna has been retaken it is uncertain whether the counterattack will continue.
The rebels include disaffected Tuareg tribesmen and more lethally the Ansar Dine movement, the region’s AQIM affiliate. In recent days there have been signs of friction between the two groups. The Tuareg rebels retreated from the well-armed militants who were being brutal in their application of sharia law. They vowed to fight back and establish in the north their own country, which they call Azawad. They were also scheduled to have talks with the Malian government yesterday, but the offensive disrupted those talks.
There has been a thin amount of hope that the Tuareq rebels, in exchange for some concessions from the government might seize and release some of the groups of hostages that are held. (This author was preparing to argue that a Psychological Warfare campaign could drive a bigger wedge between the two groups and increase the probability of gaining the hostages release. The utility of this idea is now in question pending knowing the composition of the attacking forces and whether the Tuareq rebels and AQIM have been driven back together.)
There is greatly increased uncertainty about the situation in Mali. Let me try to summarize some of the questions:
- What are the Dutch, Algerians, Swedes and South Afrikans doing during this crisis? They each have hostages that are being held.
- How far will the French pursue the current offensive?
- Will the Malian government and the Tuareq rebels renew their discussions?
- Would the Malian government provide some concessions to the Tuareq rebels in exchange for some or all of the hostages?
- What will be the role of the US? The French Defense Minister reported today that he had discussed the situation with Secretary of Defense Panetta and AFRICOM Commander General Carter Ham is reported to be monitoring the situation.
- Is the UN and the world community prepared to provide economic development to reduce the poverty that has greatly contributed to the rebel movement?
The answers to these questions will greatly affect the ongoing efforts to free the hostages.
In my next article I will introduce you to one of the hostages and discuss his situation.