Infantry: Mountain Warfare In Mali

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April 1, 2013: A force of 4,000 infantry (half French, half Chadian) have been scouring the mountains of northern Mali for al Qaeda men and the bases and hideouts they have maintained up there for over a decade. France wants to kill or capture as many Islamic terrorists as possible in the Adrar des Ifoghas Mountains near the Algerian border and do it before the enemy scatters to more distant refuges (Algeria, Libya, Sudan, Niger, Nigeria, and even farther).

The French/Chad force is doing all this the old-fashioned way, largely on foot. French and allied intelligence are gathering a lot of data on where the bad guys are or have hidden stuff. A lot of the data comes from captured documents or terrorists. But the intel effort also involves aircraft and UAVs spending a lot of time over the area, taking pictures, and listening to any electronic chatter. All this has led to a long list of possible targets for the French and Chadian infantry to check out.

The basic tactic is to use trucks to get close to the target area (where caves or buildings may contain terrorists or their gear) and go in on foot. The French troops, being better trained and equipped, usually take the lead, while the Chad troops form the blocking forces to grab any terrorists who are flushed out and run for it. This arrangement is fine with the Chadians, who have taken five times as many casualties as the French so far (including 30 Chad dead compared to five French). The French troops are each carrying 50 kg (110 pound) loads, but a lot of that is essential stuff (water and ammo). Local villagers are usually quick to cooperate, as the Islamic terrorists, no matter how hard they try to be nice, are at heart nasty people and do not make many friends in places like this.

The French prefer to use grenades to deal with terrorists who won’t surrender, as this is less likely to cause civilian casualties. When checking out caves, the grenade is, as it has been for a long time, the perfect weapon to examine what lurks in the darkness. There are a lot of caves containing supplies of weapons, ammo, and explosives (for making bombs). Some medical supplies, food, and communications are found. AQIM has been stocking up on this area for years. But the terrorists know they are in a bad situation. Many Islamic radicals are shaving their beards and trying to sneak out as locals.

The French have smart bombs on call from French warplanes overhead, but these are used sparingly because the smallest one is a 250 kg (550 pound) beast with over a hundred kg (220 pounds) of explosives in it. There is also some artillery and helicopter gunships but these are not always available. Most of the work is done by French troops climbing the trails and hills, wary of ambush and hoping the enemy is just around the corner or over the hill. After nearly two months of this, the Islamic terrorists have found it’s safer to try and flee, even if that means they might be run down by warplanes and helicopters overhead.

All of this is an opportunity to do a lot of damage to several Islamic terror groups that have been rebuilding their strength (via kidnapping ransoms and drug smuggling) throughout northern Africa for most of the last decade. Local government was not able to do much about this and Western nations with effective counter-terrorism capabilities were reluctant to get too involved. They still are, but what happened in northern Mali was too dangerous to ignore. Liberated Malians in the region were generally grateful for being rescued from an increasingly dire situation. France still plans to pull its troops out by the end of April and leave things to a 6,000 strong African peacekeeping operation.

Without all the Western aircraft (for finding and tracking terrorists and delivering smart bombs and missiles) the Islamic terrorists will be able to maintain camps in remote areas (plenty of that in the north) and make the roads dangerous to use while carrying out terror attacks in the cities. For that reason the Western air power and some special operations troops may remain. That is still being negotiated. The Europeans want the Americans to help with this because the U.S. is best equipped to do so. The United States is reluctant to get involved. The Americans are trying to talk the French into sticking around. After all, this area was once part of the French colonial empire in Africa and France has maintained economic and cultural relations with their former African colonies. The U.S. is offering to provide cash and technical assistance if the French stay and use their special operations troops and warplanes to find and destroy any remaining terrorist camps in the north.

 


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