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The withdrawal of French forces would begin in March. Is this realistic?

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Laurent Fabius announced that the withdrawal of French forces would begin in March. Is this realistic? Is there not a risk of abuse and revenge on Tuareg populations if the French withdraw?

What is the current situation?

All the major cities of the North were released by a rapid offensive of the French Army accompanied by a few dozen Malian soldiers. We should emphasize the rapid response and virtuosity with which, in three weeks, the French army was able to first of all stop the terrorist attack towards the south up to Konna, then move 3500 men on the ground and finally launch an offensive over 1000Km which helped chase terrorists and rebel forces out of all the major cities of northern Mali.

It should also be noted that even if the press was denied any images, this offensive will probably cost the opposing forces the loss of several hundred men, impressive equipment and the destruction of major logistic centers.

This first line intervention of French forces, which I had been saying was essential, has accelerated the mobilization of ECOWAS forces and especially Chad’s decision to send 2,200 experienced soldiers to Mali. The African contingent will secure major cities of Mali and allow the reconstruction of the Malian Army which will be supported by instructors, equipment and money from the European community.

What still needs to be done?

We must now find the terrorists of AQIM, the MUJAO and Islamist Ansar Eddine, who are scattered in small units over an area larger than France, but forced to make their base around water points, which limits the range of possibilities. This work is clearly not that of conventional forces that were the spearhead of the reconquest of northern Mali. It is a work of intelligence and “helping hand” conducted by special forces and paratroopers transported by helicopter or dropped by assault transport aircraft (Transall or Hercules).

In conclusion

Nothing opposes military withdrawal of a large part of the French forces in early March, before the rainy season, when the tracks will become almost unusable.

The humanitarian situation in the north is not great and it is necessary for NGOs that were already present in Mali, such as “Médecins du Monde” and “Action contre la faim” to be given the means to deploy massively on the ground. If abuse is committed, they will be the first to find out and alert the authorities and the media.

General (2S) Jean-Bernard PINATEL


The war in Mali is not the war in Indochina

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The French officer’s statement published in the Sunday paper may have seemed alarmist concerning the difficulty of the combats awaiting our forces. It is therefore worth putting it back in context. Of course, not underestimating an opponent is an essential condition for success in the field. But any tactical evaluation must be put into a strategic context.

First a few words on the enemy. Of course they are well armed and commanded by experienced and fanatical leaders, at least in the case of AQIM and MUJAO. It is not so much the case for Ansar Dine. Every soldier is not as fanatical or as well trained as their leaders. At least half the members of the group are there for the pay and have only recently been recruited and trained.
Their vulnerability mainly comes from the lack of air force or any sophisticated intelligence solutions, along with the increased difficulty they will have to stock up on carburant and munitions if Algeria shuts its boarders as promised.

Moreover, unlike Indochina, our forces will operate in an environment (terrain and population) which is favorable to them, in which they have acquired solid experience over the past 50 years (1969 first intervention in Chad).

The area in which operations will take place is 3 million km² (nearly 6 times the area of France). Our intelligence will have to cover this area, as rebels and djihadists ignore boarders. It extends from North to South over approximately 1500 km, between the 20th parallel south of Tamanrasset and a region of the Sahel that includes East Mauritania, northern Mali and northern Niger. From West to East the area is 2000 km wide, ranging from the Mauritanian border region of Nema - Adel Bagrou - Bassiknou to the Arlit - Agadès - Nakoro region in Niger that includes the Niger Bend where the cities of Gao and Tombouctou are located.

This operations area is three quarters desert and relatively flat. The main relief of the area is located in the Kidal district in eastern Mali (10 000 inhabitants) and rises to 890 m. This is where the Tuaregs of the Ifoghas tribe originate from. This crystalline mountain is an extension of central Sahara and is bordered on the West by the Tilemsi valley, a North-South axis that gives access to the Algerian border and runs through the towns of Aguelhok (8 000 inhabitants) and Tessalit (5 000 inhabitants).

This area was conquered early in 2012 by rebels of the MNLA and is now controlled by the Ansar Dine Islamic extremists which are in part a “spin off” of the MNLA. It is probably in this area that our forces can face hostility of the local population if no political negotiation with the Malian leaders has come to a particular arrangement for this area beforehand.

To the North, the Niger River rapidly leads to a set of sandy plains with altitudes between 250 and 320m. It is crossed by a second north-south track, which is the traditional route for salt convoys. It leads to the Algerian border from Timbuktu via the Arouane water point (260 km North of Timbuktu) and via the former prison in Taoudenni (750 km north of Timbuktu) where the Tuareg have always exploited the rock salt. It then passes through Téghasa on the northwestern edge of Mali to reach Tindouf in Algeria.

A part from the Niger River, there is only one other east-western track in northern Mali linking Tamanrasset (Algeria) to Tessalit - Taoudenni via the border post of Tinzaouaten.

The specifics of war in the Sahelian zone

Controlling towns and villages, which only exist because there are water points, is the major issue of the war in semi-desert and desert areas.

In the Sahel and desert areas, it is very difficult when moving to avoid aerial reconnaissance which is facilitated by the lack of vegetation.

This is clearly demonstrated by the French intervention in 1977-1978 against the Polisario. The Sahrawi movement, sponsored by Algiers, intended to suffocate Mauritania by attacking the mineral railway line linking Zouerate to Nouadhibou to get rid of its only exportable resource: Zouerate iron.

The set-up, which allowed safe delivery of iron, included « Breguets Atlantics » from the Navy in order to identify the Polisario5 columns and « Jaguars » from the Air Force, based in Senegal and refueled in flight in order to destroy them.

I would also like to bring to mind the experience acquired in Chad where the « Epervier Device » has been stationed since 1986. It is thanks to these pre-positioned forces that France could rapidly put an end to the jihadist columns that wanted to head towards Bamako. « Operation Epervier » was launched at the beginning of February 1986 after the Libyan armed forces crossed the 16th parallel when they came to support Goukouni Oueddei who had been overturned at the end of 1981 by Hissène Habré with France’s support. It followed «Operation Manta» that had been launched in 1983-1984 for the same reasons.

To conclude, this war must first of all be a war of airborne and land intelligence, using drones, helicopters and marine and air force aircrafts and Special Forces.
If we manage to mobilize the necessary intelligence systems, our ground forces accompanying those of Mali and ECOWAS will progress towards the North out without surprises. We will be able to intercept and destroy the attacks of the small rebel columns that will try to oppose it and watch our backs by combined air-land actions.

On this condition, our losses should be significantly lower than what we faced in Afghanistan (an average of two deaths per month) and incomparable to those suffered in Indochina (285 killed per month, only counting our metropolitan Soldiers).

General (2S) Jean-Bernard PINATEL


Mali, political and military certainties, risks and objectives for France

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The certainties

Thanks to our bases and the armed forces pre-positioned in Africa, France was the only power able to immediately stop the rebel and terrorist offensive towards Bamako.

The French armies have significant political and military experience of combats in the Sahel due to our engagement in Chad from 1969 to the current day.

What can we learn from this experience ?

  • Never have the black governments of the South been able to establish long term control on the territories and the populations living in the desert zones. Consequently, we will be able to regain control of Timbuktu and Gao but never the deserts north of the Niger river to the Algerian border unless we favor the implementation in Bamako of a government led by a Northern leader (which is the case in Chad), or if the Malian government accepts to negotiate with the Tuareg leaders for the autonomy of Azawad;
  • There will never be a Malian army able to ensure the safety of its territory until the pro-coup military return to their units or have been put into prison, and that a democratically elected political power has been implemented in Bamako;
  • The ECOWAS governments don’t have the resources or the will to help Mali and the Malian army in a decisive manner;
  • The risk of there being violence and massacres against the Tuareg population by the armed forces, and Malian security during an offensive towards the North mustn’t be underestimated.

Subsequent military and political objectives for the French government

  • Limiting actions at first to ensuring the safety of southern Mali by opposing all rebel attacks beyond the Mopti-Sandare line. This objective must allow us to ensure the safety of the French nationals and provide the time needed to set up a legitimately elected power in Bamako and to rebuild a Malian army capable of taking charge of the combats on the ground;
  • On the military front, only aiming to weaken the terrorist forces, without showing an aim to destroy them which is impossible. The Tuareg rebellion is endemic and can only be weakened by a political negotiation. Putting the military effort on AQIM and MUJAO forces whilst maintaining contacts and negotiations with Ansar Dine, with whom a national reconciliation should remain a possibility;
  • Only supporting the reconquest of the important towns North of Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal when these two political and military conditions are filled by clearly advertising that this objective must be linked to the implementation in these cities of Tuareg political leaders that have remained faithful or neutral since September 2012;
  • Setting up in each Malian company a team of counselors that will have an official counseling role and the unofficial mission of making sure that the Malian army doesn’t retaliate against the local population of these towns;
  • The objective of destroying AQIM and Mujao forces cannot be carried out without the military engagement of countries bordering Mali, particularly Algeria, or without the establishment of a coalition of forces from the major European countries and help from the USA.

The strategy to be implemented must therefore be global and combine diplomatic, political and military maneuvers. It is the only way to put an end to the instability in the Sahel which is strongly rooted and has a dangerous potential.

General (2S) Jean-Bernard PINATEL


Unexpected first line engagement of the French forces in Mali

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For six months, the situation in northern Mali seemed frozen with negotiations being held with the MNLA and Ansar Dine, supported by Algeria. But on Friday January 11th, the military situation in Mali faced an unexpected turnaround.

Indeed, on Thursday January 10th, after almost 24 hours of fighting that caused several casualties in the ranks of the Malian army, the rebels seized the area of Konna, located 60 km north of Mopti, the country’s third largest city with 120 000 inhabitants, making it 4 times larger than Gao the capital of northern Mali.

This rebel action marks a turning point in the situation in Mali.

For the first time the rebellion led an action South of Azawad, the territory claimed by the MNLA and Ansar Dine.

Through their presence in Konna, the rebels are directly threatening Mopti and its international airport. Bamako, which is merely located 600 km away and is home to more than 5000 French is indirectly threatened.

The rebels have clearly been encouraged to act by several factors:

  • The numerous statements of French politicians who didn’t stop repeating that France would only instruct and provide logistical support to the Malian army and ECOWAS forces and would not intervene directly in fighting;
  • Procrastination of ECOWAS that did not intend to be ready to support a counter-offensive action before the third quarter of 2013;
  • The prevailing political mayhem in Bamako where political forces are unable to achieve national unity;
  • The failure of negotiations between Ansar Dine and transitional authorities in Bamako.

Hence, the rebels thought they had a window of opportunity to push South, either to get into a position of strength in order to resume negotiations or to seize power in Bamako as did the people of northern Chad led by Hissen Habré, or Goukouni Oueddei or Idriss Deby.

France’s airborne intervention, certainly guided from the ground by detachments of Special Forces is facilitated by the terrain: to move forward with their Toyotas towards Mopti, the rebels can only use a narrow corridor between the branches of the Niger River and the Diogon plateau. This suggests that as soon as the strikes started, the rebels stopped moving south and hid in the area of Konna where it now seems that the Malian army is back on its feet, all be it without regaining full control.

Meanwhile France sent a group of paratroopers from the 11th Brigade to secure Mopti international airport, located 8 km west of the city against the town of Sévaré located on the N6 road, a North-South axis leading to Bamako. Control of the airport is strategic for Mali because it allows to park planes and helicopters needed for intelligence support as well as fire support for ground troops.

The French President will now have to choose between two military options:

  • A defensive interdiction mission in which our planes will only take part if the rebels cross a line marked on the ground, e.g. Konna; for a long time in Chad this line was the Moussoro parallel;
  • An in depth destruction mission to weaken the rebels’ potential, as was the case in Libya and during the intervention in Mauritania against the columns of the Polisario in 1977 / any armored vehicle traveling in a precisely defined hunting area is then likely to be destroyed.

On the diplomatic front, France now has no room for mistakes. In return for direct support to Malian forces, the political disorder in Bamako must come to an end. Indeed, without political unity, the Malian military will spend time doing politics instead of training to regain control of the North of their country and France will be dragged into an endless and expensive intervention even if it does not present significant risks to our soldiers.

General (2S) Jean-Bernard PINATEL


The reconquest of northern Mali, a foreseeable failure?

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In a co-signed article in Le Figaro, Laurent Fabius and Guido Westerwelle, the German foreign minister, prepared the opinion to the need to “face the Malian challenge regarding terrorism and fanaticism.” One can but agree with this goal. But the reconquest of northern Mali in the configuration that has been announced _that is with the Malian army in the lead, supported by ECOWAS forces, themselves supported by France_ is a political construction that suits the sensibilities of African actors of the crisis but which cannot have the required operational efficiency. This military campaign is doomed to failure if it is carried out according to this setup.

Why?

Historically, as largely demonstrated by the wars in Chad, Confederate armies have never managed to beat the desert fighters on their own land. In addition, the rout of the Malian Army in spring 2012 revealed that its management did not have the minimum values required to win a military battle: Malian officers, with few exceptions, were particularly cowardly, abandoning their men against the enemy. But a defeated and badly supervised army cannot become victorious simply by being trained and equipped. It is a long process that involves the selection and training of new management.

The Malian Army, which is supposed to be the main actor of the reconquest after being reorganized, reequipped and trained by French instructors from Dakar, will not be able recover the cities of the Niger bend from terrorist forces and Tuareg rebels who occupy them unless ECOWAS units take up the fight, backed by accurate air strikes.

Indeed, these need to be highly selective, meaning to say guided from the ground to avoid collateral damage to civilians. Let us recall that Gao and Timbuktu are both cities of approximately 50 000 inhabitants. This leads to putting French advanced guiding teams in the front line and a Libyan type intervention which Algerians do not want. France, indeed, cannot accept to see its planes be guided by African teams who do not have the same desire to protect civilians, and thus take the risk of being an accomplice in the massacre of the civilian population.

Unwilling to endorse a ground intervention by French or American forces in what is considered to be their sphere of influence, the Algerian authorities rightly feel that only negotiations with the MNLA and Ansar Dine on a special status of Azawad within the Republic of Mali can lead to a restoration of security in Mali.

The French President and diplomacy must quickly put an end to the illusions that the provisional authorities of Mali and the population of Bamako are under and that give France and the United States the credit for their wish to repeat the Libyan campaign in the Sahel. They need to understand that only a political negotiation with MNLA and Ansar Dine Tuaregs can preserve the unity of Mali.

Indeed, target and enemy should not be mistaken. As Laurent Fabius and Guido Westerwelle stated in Le Figaro, we must intervene in the Sahel to prevent the perpetuation of a terrorist sanctuary that is threatening the stability of the Sahel and even ultimately our country. The enemy is in fact not the MNLA and Ansar Dine Tuaregs whose values make them less open to radical Islam, but the two radical Islamic and mafia-like organizations that are AQIM and MUJAO.

General (2S) Jean-Bernard PINATEL


The crisis in Mali: the diplomatic maneuver

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The diplomatic strategy that goes with any military action aims to create or maintain a favorable political context for military operations and to prepare a way out of the crisis. In order to define a diplomatic strategy that will allow to end the crisis, an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of terrorist groups operating there and the positions of regional state actors who have interests in the Sahel is necessary.

General context

Four groups share and sometimes fight for control of northern Mali. Two groups are set outside of Mali, the AQIM from Algeria and the MUJAO from Mauritania (and Morocco?). These two groups deploy their actions over the entire Sahelian zone. The other two groups, of Malian and Tuareg origin are the Islamic Ansar Dine (or Eddine) and secular MNLA that was the initial vector of the Azawad rebellion.

The AQIM and the MUJAO rely on the Malian Ansar Dine to forge ties of allegiance to their cause with the local population. They also benefit from the precarious economic situation to enlist the youth of this region in their ranks.

A biographical analysis of the leaders of these movements is essential to understand the diplomatic strategy options available.

Analysis of terrorist and rebel groups

The most radical terrorist group is AQIM, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Prior to January 2007, it was known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC). Its affiliation with al-Qaeda is thought to have obtained the approval of Osama bin Laden. It is this that holds the French hostages.

AQIM is of Algerian origin. For many of its executives, as for its founder and Emir Amir Abdelmalek Droukdel, Mali is but a step in the control of the Sahel and the conversion of its inhabitants to radical Islam. Pragmatic as he is, Abdelmalek Droukdel considers it a mistake to impose all the rules of Islam at once to the people, as Oumar OuldHamaha of Ansar Dine is trying to do in Timbuktu. In a message released in May 2012 on the « Sahara Media » website, he advises his « brothers »: « to provide security to people in controlled cities, including Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal and provide them with essential services such as health, food, water, electricity, gas and fuel. » With respect to the Tuareg rebellion of the MNLA, he recommends avoiding «provocations » and invites AQIM to cooperate to establish « common rules » and reject conflict. Regarding the Islamic Movement Ansar Dine (defenders of Islam, in Arabic) which is predominant in this area, he advised his supporters to let the application of Sharia law take place in the Azawad region, northern Mali, and to take care of their own jihad (holy war) activities in Islamic Maghreb.

Makhloufi Nabil, who led this movement in Mali, was killed in a car accident in the Gao region of Mali on September 9, 2012. Yahya Abou El-Hammam, who would have replaced him, is probably more of a delegate for coordination than a leader. He was selected by Abdelmalek Droukdel, presumably because he had served under all the historical katibas leaders. Born in 1978 in Reghaia, near Algiers, Yahya Abou El-Hammam is merely 34 years old. He made his debut in his native region, taking part in several attacks against Algerian security forces. Then, in the early 2000s, he became the right arm of Mokhtar Ben Mokhtar, aged 40, Algerian veteran of the war in Afghanistan. In recent years, Yahya was second-in-command for Abu Zeid, 47, the man who abducted seven hostages, including five French, in Nigeria in September 2010.

MUJAO, « Movement for unity and Jihad in West Africa », established in March 2011 during the Arab Spring partly comes from a separation of AQIM. Its leader, Abu Gaâgaâ is of Mauritanian origin. Another Mauritanian, Hamada Ould Mohamed Kheirou appears in a video message. He appears to be the ideologue of the movement. The military leader is Ahmed Tilemsit, who as his name suggests, is an Arab from the Tilemsi area, that is to say, the region of the Niger Bend near Mauritania. It would include nearly 2000 combatants heavily equipped with weapons. He mainly attacked Algerian interests hence leading some officials in Algiers to see within it the hand of Rabat. The Mujao is present in Gao, the largest city in northern Mali.

The MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) is a rebel movement, truly Tuareg and secular, which has its roots in Mali in the Adrar des Ifoghas (Kidal Region). Today it is largely weakened by the defection of some of its leaders who, early in 2012, created the Islamic Malian group Ansar Dine. In their statements, the leaders of MNLA describe AQIM and Ansar Dine movements as narco-terrorists.

The leader of Ansar Dine is Mohamed Ag Najem. He was probably born in the late 50s. His father came from the Kel Adagh tribe and was killed by the Malian army during the Tuareg rebellion in 1963 when he was still a young child. At the age of 20, he was recruited as a volunteer in Gaddafi’s army. He served in Libya and Chad, before returning to Mali to take part in the 1990 Tuareg rebellion led by Iyad Ag Ghaly. Rejecting the peace agreement signed between the Malian government and Tuareg rebels he returned to Libya and became a colonel in the Libyan army and was in command of a Libyan unit in the Sabha oasis. Late 2011, he returned to Mali and federated Tuareg clans and several deserters from the Libyan army within the MNLA. After defeating the Malian army and conquering Azawad, the MLNA did not manage to resist the infiltration of Islamist groups Ansar Dine and AQIM in the cities of Timbuktu and Gao, and after tough combats was beaten. From then on it would only have control over small areas like Menaka, Anderamboukane south of the Adrar des Iforas and probably still control the road from Niamey in Nigeria where Colonel Ag Gamou, a Tuareg chief who remained faithful to the Malian army and his men fled to.

The establishment of Ansar Dine « defenders of the faith » by the Islamic fraction of MNLA makes the situation in northern Mali more complicated. Founded by Iyad Ag Ghaly, early 2012, this Malian Islamic movement is thought to have the support of the Emir of Qatar. Iyad Ag Ghaly was one of the most prominent leaders of the Tuareg rebellion in the 1990s. Aged 54, he is an Irayakan from the family of Ifoghas, of the Kidal region. The MNLA leader also originates from this tribe which provides most of the troops. These two leaders have always known each other. Iyad Ag Ghaly successfully united around him the Muslims of Northern Mali with very different personalities and backgrounds and who provide him the support of a significant portion of Tuareg clan leaders.

What roles should diplomacy and France play?

In this matter France must lie low and not engage in resolving the crisis until requested to do so by ECOWAS countries with the expressed consent of Algeria, the dominant regional power. Since its independence, Algeria considers owning the Sahara, and has a 2000 km long border with Mali. In addition, it is able to control the East-West track that connects Tamanrasset (Algeria) to Tessalit - Taoudenni via the Algerian border Tinzaouaten and allows terrorist groups to move from Libya to Mauritania.

Paris must put strict conditions on its support

Indeed, if we unconditionally agree to help leaders from Bamako regain control of the northern territory, we would be playing AQIM’s game as the Touareg would remain an endemic problem as did the Toubou and Zaghawa in Chad until the northern warriors definitely seized power in Ndjamena.

If, on the contrary, France and the countries that support Mali succeed in convincing the Malian authorities to accept Azawad’s autonomy, as Madrid did with the Basque Country to end ETA terrorism, the MNLA and possibly all or part of the leaders of Ansar Dine could even agree to help to take charge of the reconquest of the North. This would weaken AQIM and MUJAO. The reconciliation between the MNLA, Ansar Dine and Bamako is the scenario preferred by Algiers. Abdelkader Messahel, Algerian Minister in charge of Maghreb and African Affairs apparently told the two French emissaries he invited to Algiers for a work meeting in July.

General (2S) Jean-Bernard PINATEL


The intervention in the Sahel: military and diplomatic strategy

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At a time of military intervention in the Sahel by ECOWAS [1] forces, helping Mali forces trained and supported by the French Special Forces and probably by American drones, and who will benefit from any necessary air fire and logistic support, a geopolitical and strategic analysis is required.

This analysis will be carried out in two articles. The first will deal with the characteristics of the area that this action will take place in, and that the military maneuver results from. The second will study the movements of the terrorists controlling Northern Mali and their proximity, or supposed proximity with the States neighboring the arena in which the operations take place, in particular Morocco and Algeria. This analysis will enable us to trace the possible options for the diplomatic maneuver that will go with the military maneuver.

Characteristics of the area of operations

The area in which operations will take place is 300 000km² (55% of the French territory). It extends from North to South over approximately 1500km, between the 20th parallel south of Tamanrasset and a Sahel region that includes East Mauritania, northern Mali and northern Niger. From East to West the area is 2000km wide, ranging from the Mauritanian border region of Nema - d’Adel Bagrou [2] - Bassiknou to the d’Arlit [3] - Agadès - Nakoro [4] region in Niger that includes the Niger Bend where the cities of Gao and Tombouctou are located.

This operations area is three quarters desert and relatively flat. The main relief of the area is located in the Kidal district in eastern Mali (10 000 inhabitants) and rises to 890 m. This is where the Tuaregs of the Ifoghas tribe originate from. This crystalline mountain is an extension of central Sahara is bordered on the West by the Tilemsi valley, a North-South axis that gives access to the Algerian border and runs through the towns of Aguelhok (8000 inhabitants) and Tessalit (5000 inhabitants). This area was conquered early in 2012 by rebels of the MNLA and is now controlled by the Ansar Dine islamists which are in part a “spin off” of the MNLA.

To the North, the Niger River rapidly leads to a set of sandy plains with altitudes between 260 and 320m. It is crossed by a second north-south track, which is the traditional route for salt convoys. It leads to the Algerian border from Timbuktu via the Arouane water point (260 km North of Timbuktu) and via the former prison in Taoudenni (750 km north of Timbuktu) where the Tuareg have always exploited the rock salt. It then passes through Téghasa on the northwestern edge of Mali to reach Tindouf in Algeria.

A part from the Niger River, there is only one other east-western track in northern Mali linking Tamanrasset (Algeria) to Tessalit - Taoudenni via the border post of Tinzaouaten.

The specifics of war in the Sahelian zone

Controlling towns and villages, which only exist because there are water points, is the major issue of the war in semi-desert and desert areas.

In desert areas, it is very difficult when moving to avoid aerial reconnaissance which is facilitated by the lack of vegetation. This is clearly demonstrated by the French intervention in 1977-1978 against the Polisario. The Sahrawi movement, sponsored by Algiers, intended to suffocate Mauritania by attacking the mineral railway line linking Zouerate to Nouadhibou to get rid of its only exportable resource: Zouerate iron.

The set-up, which allowed safe delivery of iron, included “Breguets Atlantics” from the Navy in order to identify the Polisario [5] columns, and “Jaguars” from the Air Force, based in Senegal and refueled in flight in order to destroy them. It is also the pressure exerted against the Polisario, created by Algeria to contest the annexation of a part of Western Sahara by Morocco, which allowed the hostages to be freed from Zouerate. Boumediene agreed to hand them over to the French authorities, hoping that this gesture would avoid the complete destruction of the Polisario’s potential. It is this experience that maintains the hope that terrorist groups will not execute their hostages in the case of a military intervention as they are their best card in a final negotiation.

Possible military strategy

The military campaign against terrorist organizations is likely to include a three phase plan that will take place from November 2012 to April 2013, during the dry season and the more temperate one:

  • Strengthening and training of 3000 men of the expeditionary force of ECOWAS by French special forces, meanwhile starting up information actions and maybe even airstrikes on routes connecting cities and towns occupied by terrorist forces (October-December 2012);
  • Reclaiming the cities of the Niger Bend including Gao and Timbuktu (January-February 2013);

Tombouctou

  • Regain Control of the “Adrar des Ifoghas” including the regions of Kigal, Aguelhok (8000 inhabitants) and Tessalit (March-April 2013).

Meanwhile, political negotiations will mature with the riparian countries and with the Malian government and will include Ansar Diné and Tuaregs of the NLA. The analysis of the possible diplomatic maneuver based on the course of the leaders of these terrorist movements and the origins of their fighters will be presented in the next article.

General (2S) Jean-Bernard PINATEL

[1] Economic Community Of West African States.

[2] where a policeman was kidnapped at the end of December 2011.

[3] Where five French Areva and Satom employees and a Togolese were kidnapped Thursday September 16th by the AQIM.

[4] 300km South of Agadès where 6 African humanitarian workers working for a Nigerian NGO were kidnapped during the night of the 14th to the 15th October.

[5] The radar of the Atlantics is optimized to pick out submarine periscopes and worked wonders in the Mauritanian sand dunes.