As French forces move north after capturing the main towns formerly occupied by Islamic militants, the rebels may be resorting to guerrilla tactics as a suicide bomber targeted a checkpoint in the city of Gao.
. Within four weeks of their intervention on January 11, about 4,000 French troops have managed to drive Islamic militants out of the three main towns in the north, Gao, Kidal, and Timbuktu.
French troops parachuted into a town further to the north taking control of the town of Tessalit and its airfield just 50km or about 30 miles from the Algerian border. This is the northernmost town yet captured. The French are trying to flush retreating militants from hideouts in the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains. They are believed to be holding several hostages in the area. The rapid speed of the offensive may create a security vacuum as towns are left in the control of inexperienced Malian army forces and a larger African force that is still in the process of being organized and deployed.
On the outskirts of Gao, a city recently taken by the French, a suicide bomber on a motorbike blew himself up at a checkpoint injuring a Malian soldier. Since the recapture, their have also been at least two landmine explosions on one of the main routes out of town that killed two Malian soldiers.
There was violence also in the Malian capital in the south. A mutiny apparently broke out in Bamako among paratroopers. The paratroopers, who were loyal the President Toure who was driven out of office in a coup last spring, refused orders to deploy to the north to fight rebels and apparently fought with forces from the army. The clashes happened around a military base in Bamako.
Mali's interim President Dioncounda Traore condemned what he called the sad spectacle of fratricidal shooting between the two armed forces groups saying:"The Malian army has certainly got better things to do than what we've seen today,"
At least two civilians were killed and a number of troops on both sides were injured. Given that the government does not seem to be able to control the armed forces even in the south, they may have even more difficulty in the north where the population may not be welcoming and they will be subject to terrorist acts. This may lead the armed forces to indiscriminate violence against locals.
Although the French made a large number of air strikes, the rebel leadership and forces may still remain relatively intact. While some militants may remain in towns to mount terror attacks others will retreat into a series of caves and tunnels in the northern desert, where it may be difficult to dislodge them. Northern Mali could become similar to Afghanistan where the Taliban were at first easily defeated militarily but immediately began an insurgency against the government
France and its allies are hoping that Malian authorities will open a national reconciliation dialogue and address the demands for autonomy of northern communities such as the Tuareg. The Tuareg offered to help the French but did not want the Malian army to move north until autonomy for the area had been negotiated. That did not happen. However, the French forces are apparently cooperating with the Tuareg MNLA and it would seem that group has entered the northern town of Kidal. The Malian armed forces are not happy with that development.
Traore hopes to hold elections by July 31. Although the leader of last year's coup, Captain Sanogo, has nominally handed over power to an interim civilian government, many observers believe he still has a great deal of power and often meddles in government affairs.
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