Al Qaeda is making public appeals via the Internet for supporters to come to Mali and help. That’s pretty desperate but not the first time al Qaeda has put out such a call. Six years ago a similar debacle in Iraq caused a similar panic. Then, as now, al Qaeda can survive in some form. In Iraq al Qaeda continued as a subsidiary of the Iraqi Sunni Arab groups that are trying to terrorize their way back into power. In Mali there are still a lot of northerners (mainly Tuareg tribesmen) willing to risk all (they don’t much to begin with) for the sake of a radical cause. All al Qaeda needs is some foreign volunteers for the really nasty jobs (like suicide bomber) and continued dissatisfaction by some locals. Al Qaeda also needs help in moving the weapons, ammo, and other equipment (hidden in the northern mountains) that the French and Chadian troops have not found yet. Those mountains near the Algerian border have been AQIM (al Qaeda's North African wing that contains mainly Arab and non-African Islamic radicals) central for over a decade. AQIM developed relationships with the local Tuareg (jobs and cash gifts in return for cooperation and silence) that can still be exploited. The French are aware of this and are trying to get the UN to establish a competent (meaning some Western special operations troops) peacekeeper force to keep an eye on AQIM efforts to rebuild in the northern Adrar des Ifoghas Mountains.
Two thousand (out of 4,000) French and 2,000 (out of 2,400) Chadian troops have done most of the fighting in the north since January. In that time five French and 30 Chadian troops have been killed, along with several hundred Islamic terrorists. An exact count of the enemy dead is impossible because air strikes killed many of them and no survivors were captured who could provide information on how many people were around when the bombs hit.
An even more difficult problem remains in southern Mali: corruption and army leaders who refuse to obey the elected politicians. In both cases corruption and mismanagement are the main cause of the widespread anger. The immediate cause of the army rebellion a year ago was corrupt politicians (and senior military officers) who looted the defense budget and left the troops fighting Tuareg rebels and Islamic terrorists in the north without weapons, ammo, and needed equipment. The troops are still steamed over that and the southern politicians have not cleaned up their act.
France has another problem with the Mali government. As the French moved north they used the many followers (armed and unarmed) as the MNLA (Tuaregs rebels, who comprise most of the northern population) to maintain order in the cities. There simply were not enough soldiers available and the MNLA men were there and had already been negotiating with the Mali government to make peace, once the Islamic terrorists were gone. The Mali Army is still not strong enough to drive the MNLA out of the north. This is despite the fact that the north contains only about 12 percent of Mali's 15 million people and is largely barren desert. The MNLA is popular because they are locals, relatively honest, and sufficiently well-armed to keep the thieving southern politicians and soldiers away. The Islamic terror groups made themselves unpopular (and made the MNLA look much better by comparison) in the north by forcing everyone to obey strict (no tobacco, alcohol, music, video, shaved men, and unveiled women) Islamic lifestyle rules. This ran into a lot of resistance, especially once the Islamic terrorists made it clear that their ultimate goal was turning all of Mali into an Islamic religious dictatorship. MNLA means (in French) “Liberation Army of Azawad” and the Mali government is enraged that some of the MNLA men controlling roads and cities are approving documents (like passes) with rubber stamps that say “State of Azawad”. That is the Tuareg term for their homeland in northern Mali.
March 23, 2013: Several dozen MOJWA (an AQIM splinter group) gunmen entered Gao and a gun battle ensued. Nine were killed (four terrorists, one soldier, and four civilians) during 24 hours of skirmishing before the surviving terrorists fled back to the countryside.
AQIM announced a new leader (Djamel Okacha) who would replace Abou Zeid (killed last month in the northern mountains). At first AQIM insisted Abou Zeid was still alive but he wasn’t. Also lost last month was another senior AQIM man, Mokhtar Belmokhtar. No replacement for him has been announced. AQIM also reported that it killed (on March 10th) and beheaded one of the French hostages (Philippe Verdon) that it was holding in northern Mali. Verdon was taken 18 months ago and France refused to pay ransom. AQIM and its allies still hold 14 foreign hostages in Africa. Up to half a dozen are still believed to be somewhere in northern Mali.
March 21, 2013: The U.S. declared Ansar Dine (an al Qaeda-linked Islamist group composed of Tuaregs) an international terrorist organization. This makes it difficult for Ansari Dine to raise funds overseas or for its known members to travel abroad.
In Timbuktu French and Mali troops repulsed a night attack by some 30 Islamic terrorists, killing ten of them. Two Mali soldiers were wounded.
March 20, 2013: In Timbuktu a suicide car bomber attacked a checkpoint near the airport, killing a soldier and wounding two others. This was the first Islamic terrorist suicide attack since French troops moved north on January 11th.