As a follow-up to my post yesterday, news reports today that French Special Forces clashed with militants deep in the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains seem to demonstrate further that France is taking its vow to eliminate terrorist threats in Mali very seriously.
After French and Chadian forces secured the final major towns held by Islamist rebels (Kidal, Aguelhok, and Tessalit) on February 5-8, many assumed Paris had reached its “mission accomplished” moment. Militants affiliated with Ansar Dine (and perhaps AQIM) had pulled back to their mountain stronghold (Adrar des Ifoghas)—alive, but extremely unlikely to soon regain the vast territory they once ruled. The strategy now was to bleed dry the remaining militants by blocking the exits: French and ECOWAS units would cover the towns to the west and south; Algeria and Niger would plug the borders to the rebels’ north and east. All the while, US surveillance aircraft and French bombers would keep Ansar Dine in check from the skies.
France revealed today it was planning to quicken that bleeding. President Francois Hollande announced from Athens that “close to 150” French paratroopers and Malian soldiers (supported by armored vehicles and Mirage jets) launched “Operation Panthère (Panther)” on Tuesday morning in the Adrar des Ifoghas. The raid, apparently begun 50 km (30 mi) south of Tessalit, involved pursuing and neutralizing a band of militants finding refuge in the area (likely Ansar Dine). In a clash that lasted 5-6 hours, one French Legionnaire and more than 20 militants were killed. The fighting reportedly occurred 50 km (30 mi). (It is unclear whether Operation Panthère was intended to recapture seven French hostages thought to be held in the vicinity.)
While the details remain fuzzy, France sent a clear message by entering the Adrar des Ifoghas: it intends to stay true to its word—to fight until the “last chiefs or the terror groups that remain” (quoting Hollande) have been neutralized.
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