Before the French moved north, Ansar Dine offered to work with the Mali government to destroy al Qaeda control of the north in return for autonomy for the Tuareg tribes that predominate up there and the continued use of Sharia (Islamic) law. The southerners are willing to discuss the former but are hostile to the latter. Meanwhile, Ansar Dine and their less religious Tuareg allies found that they lacked the firepower to prevent AQIM and MUJWA from calling all the shots in northern Mali.
When the French moved north in January, there were about 3,000 armed Islamic terrorists in the north, but only a third of them were terrorist veterans. The rest were recent recruits. About half of these recruits were from northern Mali and were in it mainly for the money (although for some, religion was the main draw). The other thousand were mostly Africans from countries like Nigeria, Togo, Tunisia, Burkina Faso, Somalia, Mauritania, and Niger. There were several hundred from North Africa (mainly Algeria and Libya) and other Middle Eastern nations, as well as Europe and North America. France was aware that al Qaeda was calling for new recruits from all over the world. France had informants inside their own Moslem community who reported that this was happening, and a growing number of young men were quietly leaving home for parts unknown. Now the French know where some of those terrorist recruits were headed. Some died in northern Mali, but others, more ominously, got away. French intelligence has collected names but they realize that some of the French recruits were unidentified and if they go back to France they could form terrorist cells and do some damage. It’s the same with all the new recruits that got away and had no past record of being Islamic terrorists.
AQIM was already running training programs when the French invaded and were rapidly expanding that. The plan was to train thousands of new recruits a year and show them how to set up terrorist cells back home and operate, and communicate, without getting caught. French intelligence also discovered the extent of the AQIM bases in northwest Mali near the Algerian border. Also discovered was how AQIM, Ansar Dine, and MUJWA had made a lot of money in the past decade via kidnapping, drug smuggling, and extortion. The French got some leads on who worked with the terrorists on these money-making endeavors and where some of the cash was.
France now has troops, especially commandos, up near the Algerian border going after these older terrorist bases. Counter-terrorism organizations worldwide are now getting leads to work on, but France wants other Western nations to send specialists (especially commandos and air recon forces) to Mali to help shut down the terrorists in northern Mali before these guys can flee or hide in plain sight. This is the case with the Tuareg and black African terrorists. These guys can pay for some help, as a little cash goes a long way in poverty stricken northern Mali. But it takes time to set those things up and the French believe most of their hot leads will have grown cold by the end of April.
The French are trying to organize a Western staffed quick reaction and intelligence force for northern Mali, to detect and stomp on any al Qaeda revival up there. Western UAVs and intelligence aircraft can be a big help with that. Western special operations troops, assisted by some locals, can quickly exploit any leads. It may take a year or two to make Islamic terrorists understand that northern Mali is no longer the kind of place they want to be.