I’m proud to introduce today the official Notes on the Periphery “Mali map”!
This map will serve as a tracker of sorts – charting (1) clashes with rebels, (2) significant towns recaptured by the French/ECOWAS intervention (or the Tuareg-led enemy-turned-ally MNLA), and (3) other significant events related to security in the coming months (e.g., violence in Bamako, ethnic clashes). Please click here to check it out: https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msid=208453989846186073288.0004d568accfd1adac5d2&msa=0
© 2013 Google © 2013 Tele Atlas
The map will be updated regularly to reflect new developments.
For now, I will discern two notable trends from the map:
1) Among the three main Islamist rebel groups (AQIM, MUJAO, and Ansar Dine), MUJAO has been the only one to threaten a significant counter-attack. French and Malian ground troops, reinforced by Chadian and Nigerien troops, recaptured Gao on January 26. After almost two weeks of relatively quiet, MUJAO boldly reasserted its relevance on February 8, when the first of two suicide bombings rocked a military checkpoint on the northern outskirts of the city. On February 10, militants reported discretely entered the city on canoes and launched an assault in the heart of central Gao. It was not until France deployed ground reinforcements and assault helicopters that the threat was eliminated. While unsuccessful in recapturing any territory, MUJAO clearly surprised the French and Malian forces in the area and will likely continue to pose some degree of danger to troops and residents of Gao and its surroundings.
2) On the other hand, Ansar Dine’s (primarily indigenous Tuaregs) fighters have all but disappeared for the moment. Many are simply blending in with the local population, some probably giving up the fight while others wait for instructions on what to do next. The rest have reportedly retreated to the hills of the Adrar des Ifoghas, the nucleus of the Tuareg insurgency for decades. The lack of resistance in nearby Kidal, Aguelhok, and Tessalit (recaptured by French and Chadian troops on Feb. 5, Feb. 7, and Feb. 8, respectively) may indicate a strategic choice by Ansar Dine to “lie low” and wait out the French-led intervention.
It is unclear as of yet whether this is a wise choice: with all significant towns to the west and south of the Adrar des Ifoghas under French-Chadian-Malian government control, the fighters lack a reliable hub for transporting weapons and/or fighters in and out of the mountains. To the north and east, the neighboring Algerian military is tasked with ensuring no fighters escape across the border. With French bombs raining above them and few good options for escape, time is not on Ansar Dine’s side. I am anxious to see whether the once-hardened and well-armed resistance remerges in the coming weeks.