Tag Archives: MNLA

France Weathers Criticism as it Looks to Disengage in Mali

France has been working steadily to establish and keep to a timetable for withdrawing the bulk of its forces from Mali and turn over responsibility to an African-led, UN-mandated peacekeeping force.  Currently, the French plan is reduce the size of their contingent in Mali to around one thousand personnel by spring of next year.  French forces are currently strained by a number of commitments, with forces being withdrawn from Kosovo as the country seeks to bolster its contingent in Central African Republic, where violence and lawlessness appear to be spiraling out of control.

Overview Map - Mali, as of 1 March 2013

Overview Map – Mali, as of 1 March 2013

However, as France attempts this disengagement it finds itself fielding criticism from the Mali government and others, as well as having to face the realities of a security situation that has no entirely stabilized.  The situation in Mali has more accurately regressed in the second half of this year.  The ethnic Tuareg rebel group the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) said at the end of November that it was ending its ceasefire with the government.  At the beginning of that month it had also been named among the groups working to form a new rebel coalition.  The MNLA had previously been in coalition with Arab Islamist groups, but had effectively ended this partnership following the signature of an interim peace agreement with the Malian government in June.

The peace negotiations between the Tuaregs and the Malian government are at the core of the criticism of French policy in the country, with both sides accusing the French of being ineffectual in their efforts to help the two sides come to an agreement. French policy has indeed appeared to be at best complex.  For instance, while French and Malian forces together wrested control of Kidal from rebels earlier in the year, the French also reportedly engaged with Tuaregs and the MNLA in operations against Islamist rebel groups.  According to Malian authorities, the French also sought to create a buffer between the Malian government and the MNLA by looking to keep Malian security forces out of Kidal.  Not only did this anger the Malian government, but also provided mixed signals to the MNLA, as France’s official policy was that the Tuaregs should drop their demands for autonomy and enter into negotiations with the central government.

Tensions between all three parties in Kidal, as well as elsewhere in the north, have been high.  Two French journalists were kidnapped and killed last month and the Malian government’s response to recent Tuareg protests being at the core of their decision to end their ceasefire.  In addition, the tensions come as Mali’s new government seeks to put the leader of the country’s 2012 coup and some of his associates on trial for various crimes including murder and kidnapping.  Reports today say that investigators in the case against General Amadou Sanogo found a mass grave with twenty-one bodies in it near the southern garrison town of Kati.  The bodies are believed to be those of so-called “red beret” soldiers, loyal to ousted President, who were then accused by then Captain Sanogo of plotting a counter-coup.

With all of this, as we now move into December it remains to be seen whether the French will have to extend their timetable for drawing down and ultimately withdrawing yet again.

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Arrests in Mali as France Expands African Commitment

UPDATE: The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) also announced today that it was ending a ceasefire with Mali’s government.  This announcement by the Tuareg rebel group followed clashes between ethnic Tuareg and Malian security forces in Kidal yesterday, which prevented the country’s Prime Minister, Oumar Tatam Ly, from making a planned visit.  The MNLA said that the actions by Malian forces amounted to an act of War.  At the beginning of the month the MNLA, along with the the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA) and the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA), announced they were forming a new coalition.  What affect this declaration by the MNLA might have on the activities of those groups is not known.

French forces in Mali detained a low-ranking member of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) yesterday during operations.  Alhassane Ould Mohamed, who is also known as Cheibani Ould Hama, was one of twenty-two prisoners who escaped in June from Niger’s central prison in the capital Niamey.  There Mohamed had been serving a twenty year prisoner sentence for his involvement in the killing of four tourists from Saudi Arabia in 2009.

Overview Map - Mali, as of 1 March 2013

Overview Map – Mali, as of 1 March 2013

However, US authorities have also been looking to charge Mohamed in connection with the shooting of US Department of Defense attache,  William Bultemeier, in Niamey in December 2000.  According to an indictment in a court in New York City, Mohamed and an another unidentified individual attempted to carjack a vehicle being driven by Bultemeier.  A Marine Staff Sergeant, Christopher McNeely, was also in the vehicle.  Both men were killing in the altercation.  Mohamed was subsequently arrested, but escaped custody in 2002.  He was arrested in Mali in 2009, before being deported to Niger to stand trial for the killing of the Saudi Arabian tourists.  Mohamed was reported to have been turned over by French forces to Malian authorities.  One would imagine that his record of escaping custody would lead the US to seek his extradition.

Mohamed’s capture follows the arrest of Mali’s General Amadou Sanogo, who led the coup that toppled the country’s government in March 2012.  Sanogo was charged with murder for his alleged involvement in killing of individuals involved in a counter-coup attempt in April 2012 and deaths during the suppression of an Army mutiny in September 2012.  Sanogo had only recently been promoted to the rank of general, skipping three ranks in the process, suggesting he retained considerable influence in the country.  Despite having transitioned to civilian leadership, Mali’s government remains fragile and relies heavily on international forces to provide security.

France provides the bulk of this contingent, though they hope to turn over the mission to African-led UN-mandated forces early next year.  This move has been delayed by difficulties in getting the UN-mandated force established, however.  With the additional planned increase in French forces in CAR, France is redeploying over three hundred military personnel from its contingent in Kosovo.  The force in CAR is also intended to be an interim solution until an African-led UN-mandated force can be established some time next year.

France currently has approximately four hundred and fifty personnel in CAR, who are working to expand the capabilities of the country’s single-runway airport in advance of the planned reinforcements.  A french warship, the Mistral-class amphibious assault ship Dixmude, docked today in Douala, Cameroon.  Dixmude was transporting a contingent of three hundred and fifty, along with vehicles and other equipment, bound for CAR.  Dixmude had also ferried forces to Mali in January at the start of Operation Serval.  The US also supported efforts to ferry international forces and materiel to Mali as part of Operation Juniper Micron.  It is not known whether France may call on the US to help support the build-up in CAR.

New Malian Rebel Coalition Announced

After several days of talks in Burkina Faso, Mali’s National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA), and the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA) announced on 5 November 2013 that they had tentatively agreed to form a common negotiating committee and joint decision making body to put forward a common negotiating position in talks with the central government.  The merger is reported to be set to come into affect in forty-five days, giving time for the groups to consult with their membership and approve the agreement.

The announcement was viewed as an attempt to jump-start peace talks in Mali, which had been resumed in October, but were suspended again after rebels walked out.  Fighting has since resumed, primarily in and around the area of Kidal, the same town in which two French journalists were abducted from this past weekend.  The journalists were later killed.  Rebels in Mali’s north are primarily fighting for greater autonomy in the desert region where the government continues to exerts little control.

This is also not the first time Tuaregs and Arab groups have forged alliances in their battles with the central government.  In May 2012, it was reported that the MNLA had aligned itself with the Salafist group Ansar Dine to form the Council of the Islamic State of Azawad.  This group won notable victories in the latter half of 2012 prompting an international response, which was led by the French and supported by the United States.  Ansar Dine’s push for Sharia Law in Mali’s north had been a major obstacle between them and Tuareg groups prior to the agreement to form a coalition in 2012.  As the pair began to secure areas in Mali’s north, reported pushes to convert Tuareg tribesmen to their stricter brand of Islam caused divisions between the MNLA and Ansar Dine again.  It is unclear whether any common negotiating position would fully address this issue.