Documents captured by French troops in Mali have compromised al Qaeda’s normal, secret communications system, and it will take weeks or months to rebuild that, so the Internet and public messages are serving as a temporary substitute. Having suffered another unexpected and very damaging defeat in Mali, al Qaeda is trying to use the Internet to turn indignation among its supporters into some locally organized terror attacks in the West, while also striving to impose Islamic (Sharia) law imposed in Moslem communities and eventually throughout the West. Al Qaeda fans are warned to not try and come to North Africa, where hundreds of al Qaeda veterans are scrambling to avoid death or capture. Dozens of terrorism volunteers have been arrested for trying to get into the region and many more have been turned back.
Calling for attacks in the West is a bold move by al Qaeda, which could backfire if there are no attacks. While many young Moslems living in the West like to talk about how much they admire al Qaeda, the terrorist organization has had a difficult time turning those attitudes into action. Al Qaeda has also called for Islamic terrorist veterans and supporters in North Africa to help by attacking local targets or organizing support for terrorists fleeing Mali.
In addition to capturing documents, French troops have seized hundreds of tons of weapons, ammunition, and other equipment. Many al Qaeda men are being taken alive and have been a good source of information. One thing the captured terrorists mention a lot of the demoralizing impact of their sudden change of fortune. In early January the al Qaeda men believed they had hit the jackpot, with the establishment of a new sanctuary, and one that could easily be defended from attack. Al Qaeda was setting up training camps for the hundreds of new recruits who were showing up. Then in a matter days that call came apart. This was a major blow to morale. But many of these prisoners still believed that Islamic radicalism would eventually win and the entire world would be run by a religious dictatorship. After all, this was a Mission From God.
European counter-terrorism organizations are warning Europeans that some of the Islamic radicals who had long lived in Europe had gone to northern Mali, and a few had been caught trying to return to their European sanctuary. France announced that it had captured two French citizens in Mali who had been working with al Qaeda. These two men are being sent back to France for prosecution. There are other men like these two who have picked up more terrorism skills and motivation in Mali and are a more serious threat now if they get back home undetected. There are at least a hundred Islamic men from Europe who were blocked (by countries they had to mass through) from reaching Mali and have returned angry and more determined to do some damage. Most of these men are known to police.
France is trying to organize a UN sponsored counter-terrorism force of up to 10,000 troops for northern Mali, one that has some Western troops. Many of the African peacekeeping contingents will take months to be complete and skilled troops are needed right now to hunt down al Qaeda in northern Mali. France has 4,000 troops in Mali and wants to withdraw these, if only because many have been in constant action for over two months. It is believed that France wants these experienced special operations troops available to go into any other African nation that gets hit with an al Qaeda invasion. Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mauritania have already expressed fears that they may be next. Chad, with a strong, experienced army (and years of experience fighting Islamic irregulars from Chad) is at less risk. All of Mali’s neighbors have increased border security and efforts to identify any Islamic radicals, especially new ones, among their people.
Five rockets landed outside Gao, apparently an attempt by al Qaeda men to hit the city with the unguided rockets.
March 16, 2013: A fifth French soldier was killed in Mali, this time by a roadside bomb in the north (Adrar des Ifoghas mountains). French and Chadian troops are scouring the mountains for remaining groups of al Qaeda men. Intense aerial reconnaissance (including half a dozen large American and French UAVs) are providing leads for the ground troops to check out.
March 13, 2013: Moderates with Ansar Dine (an al Qaeda-linked Islamist group composed of Tuaregs) has agreed to merge with the main Tuareg rebel groups (MNLA). Last year MNLA and Ansar Dine tried to force al Qaeda out of northern Mali. Before the French moved north MNLA and 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 were willing to discuss the former but are hostile to the latter. Meanwhile, MNLA and Ansar Dine discovered they lacked the firepower to defeat AQIM and MOJWA (an AQIM splinter group). With the Islamic terrorists now on the run, the various Tuareg factions are offering to work with the French and the Mali government. Meanwhile the return of the Mali Army has caused problems because of troops seeking revenge over the way they were chased out of the north a year ago. The French and the AU (African Union) peacekeepers are trying to persuade the Malian troops to behave but without a lot of success. The French believe that treating the defeated Tuareg decently is essential to keeping the Islamic terrorists out of northern Mali. If there are enough hostile Tuaregs in the north, the Islamic terrorists (especially the Tuareg Ansar Dine) will have a population to hide among. AQIM have a harder time because the Arab population in northern Mali is much smaller and concentrated in a few cities and large towns.
March 8, 2013: In the north four civilians were killed, apparently by a group of Islamic terrorists while stealing the car that belonged to the four victims.
There was some unrest among Mali troops because they had not been paid. Corruption has long been a problem in Mali and particularly in the military. Officers will try to steal money meant for their troops, and this caused low morale and poor performance among the troops.