Thursday, 28 June 2012

Mali crisis deepens as Islamists tighten grip over breakaway Azawad


Ansar Dine taken control of Mali
The al Qaeda-affiliate Ansar Dine extended its control of Azawad, the Mali break-away region, by wresting control of the city of Gao from rival Tuareg forces; Mali’s neighbors announce that they have troop commitments from three west African countries for a military operation against Azawad Islamists; an advance party of European military and civilian security advisors is already operating in northern Niger in preparation for the military campaign, and behind-the-scenes discussions at the Security Council will soon yield a UN resolution authorizing the African Union to sent military forces to Azawad to oust the Islamists and reunify Mali

Only three months ago, Tuareg separatists and Islamist, al Qaeda-affiliated Ansar Dine movement joined forces to wrest control of northeast Mali from the central government in Bamako, the country’s capital. At the end of March they declared the independence of that area – two-thirds of Mali’s territory, roughly the size of France — and called it Azawad. The initial cooperation between the separatists and the Islamists soon deteriorated into a contest over who would control Azawad, a contest which Ansar Dine has been winning. The Islamists already control most of Azawad territory, where they have imposed a strict Sharia law. The strict Islamic law is anathema to the tolerant Tuareg, and UN observers report that more than 400,000 refugees have already fled the Islamists-controlled areas.

The latest victory by Ansar Dine was yesterday’s takeover of the city of Gao. More than twenty people were killed in the fighting, and Bilal Ag Cherif, the leader of the Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) was wounded.

The de facto control of Azawad by an al Qaeda offshoot, and the fact that Ansar Dine has recruited hundreds of seasoned fighters from Pakistan and Afghanistan to help it police the area, have been a source of growing concern for Mali’s neighbors, and for the EU and the United States. Back in March, the French foreign minister at the time, Alain JuppĂ©, was warned by Mali’s neighbors that the region risked becoming a “West African Afghanistan” if Ansar Dine gained control of the north.

These worries have intensified as it became clear that the political crisis in Bamako is far from over, and it is not clear how soon the Mali government could marshal its own military, now deeply divided, for a campaign to reunify the country.

Mali’s neighbors

Mali’s neighbors are already preparing their next move. Under the leadership of Niger’s president Mahamadou Issoufou, four of Mali’s neighbors – Niger, Mauritania, Algeria, and Burkina Faso – have began to prepare for a coordinated military operation to oust the Islamists from Azawad and reunify Mali. Msnbc reports that West African military chiefs, after a meeting in Ivory Coast, announced that they have secured troop commitments from three nations for a Mali intervention force.

The group has asked France and the United States to assist the military effort with intelligence and logistical support, and the two countries agreed.

Source: Homeland Security News Wire

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