Mali Islamists regroup to strike back

2013-01-15 22:05
A French Mirage F1 CR fighter aircraft, at the 101 military airbase near Bamako. (Issouf Sanogo, AFP)

A French Mirage F1 CR fighter aircraft, at the 101 military airbase near Bamako. (Issouf Sanogo, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

  • Bradt Guide Mali
    This title features information that ranges from elephant migrations to rock-climbing. Now R262.00
    buy now

Bamako - Caught off guard by France's fierce offensive against their bases, Islamists occupying northern Mali have fled into the vast desert to regroup and plot their next move, experts said on Tuesday.

Masters of the harsh desert terrain, experts of survival and well-armed, the jihadists' retreat should not be mistaken for a sign of defeat, analysts said.

Terrorism expert Jean-Charles Brisard said the Islamists' evacuation of their bases after heavy air strikes by French fighter jets was an obvious "tactical retreat".

He said the insurgents were merely taking advantage of "the immensity of the desert" of northern Mali, whose main towns they have controlled since overpowering a weakened Malian army in April.

"To our knowledge they have retreated into the mountainous regions around Kidal. It will be necessary to quickly go on the ground to dislodge them," he said.

Kidal, along with Gao and Timbuktu, has been one of the key centres of the Islamist-conquered Malian territory, a vast expanse of hostile, semi-arid terrain more than double the size of France.

The international community has long feared the zone could become a new breeding ground for terrorism, and a push by the insurgents towards Bamako prompted France to intervene on Friday.

Backed by the remnants of the battered Malian army, the former colonial power swept in with Rafale fighter jets and hundreds of troops in a bid to drive back the Islamists.

Allied and sometimes overlapping, the rebel groups al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao), have implemented brutal shari'ah law in towns under their control.

Intervention force

Whippings, amputations and sometimes executions of transgressors have been accompanied by the destruction of centuries-old monuments which the mujahideen consider "idolatrous".

French warplanes sent the Islamists fleeing from Kidal and Gao as well as the more central town of Douentza, destroying weapons and fuel stockpiles and other bases in five days of airstrikes.

But elsewhere the jihadists remained on the offensive, on Monday seizing the small town of Diabaly 400km north of Bamako, which was targeted several hours later by French forces.

In fear of the security threat posed by the fleeing extremists, Algeria has closed its 2 000km long border with Mali and Mauritania has deployed troops to patrol its frontier along the west of Mali.

Meanwhile West African nations Nigeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Ghana, Togo and Guinea, are preparing to deploy a UN-backed force of some 3 300 men, with the first Nigerian troops set to arrive in Mali by Wednesday.

This intervention force has been fast-tracked after months of concern over the training and capability of the African troops, and some experts warn it could still be a while before they are operational faced with hardened fighters accustomed to harsh desert conditions.

"They have dispersed to make the African offensive a lot more difficult on the ground. They are spreading out to draw us into a guerilla situation. They can prolong the conflict indefinitely," said Brisard.

Alaya Allani, a Tunisian expert on Islamist movements, agrees.

Precarious security

"The jihadists are in it for the long-haul. They are comfortable in this situation: the vast desert, a difficult terrain, a precarious security situation."

"They will make a tactical withdrawal to get their breath back, but neither the Malian army or the French can crush them."

Malian expert Moussa Tounkara said the withdrawal from the main Malian towns was temporary, and warned the Islamists were likely to strike back with targeted attacks elsewhere.

Islamist leaders in Mali, outraged at the French offensive, have vowed to strike "at the heart" of France, including its interests in Africa.

Concern is also high over the fate of seven French hostages kidnapped in the Sahel over the past two years.

Pierre Camatte, a French hostage held for three months in 2009 before being rescued, said the danger for his countrymen was "at its highest point", while agreeing the French intervention was necessary.

"Today there are real fanatics who consider themselves entrusted with a divine mission to combat heathens, notably the French."

Read more on:    aqim  |  mujao  |  ansar dine  |  mali  |  france  |  west africa

Read News24’s Comments Policy publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining

Inside News24


ANCYL: Not voting would be blasphemy

Not voting in the forthcoming elections would be blasphemy, the ANCYL says in a statement commemorating the 50th anniversary of struggle icon Nelson Mandela's Rivonia trial speech.


Latest elections multimedia

Why Jack Parow wants you to vote on 7 May
The ad the SABC doesn't want to air
Elections 2014 in one cartoon
This year's election posters
  • Thursday Sir Lowry's Pass - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Old Sir Lowrys Pass Road
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Bezweni Road
  • Thursday Cape Town - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Buitengracht Street
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Waterkant Street
More traffic reports...

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Escape winter, head to Mauritius

Escape winter by spending 7 nights in Mauritius' tropical bliss from R13 215 per person sharing. Includes return flights, airport transfers and accommodation. Book now! - shop online today

Get many eggs in one basket!

Gaming bundles: 2 Super Hits games for R99, 3 Disney games for R99 and more + exclusive accessory bundles only available on While stocks last. Shop now!

25% off bestselling books!

The Real Meal Revolution by Tim Noakes, Jeffrey Archer’s Be Careful What You Wish for, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frank and many more titles. Shop now!

Up to 25% off electronics

Buy top electronics and save up to 25%. Such as’s 1# selling product the gobii eReader, Patriot X Porter flash drive, Asus Nexus 7” 3G tablet, Samsung Galaxy SIII, Lenovo G580 Notebook and many more. Shop now!

DStv HD PVR Decoder now R949

The DStv HD PVR Decoder has further revolutionised the television experience with lifelike viewing, sharper images, more vibrant colours and precision picture quality. Now R949, save R550. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 30% off appliances & homeware

Save up to 30% on appliances and homeware this Easter! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Apple iPad 3 Black 64GB 9.7" Tablet With WiFi & 4G

Retina Display Finally the incredible Retina display technology from the iPhone...

From R7699.00

I'm shopping for:


There may be a break through, either through quiet contemplative time to connect to your deep side or forced on you more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.