The war between Tuaregs, jihadists and the Army spreads through northern Mali | International

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Malian President Colonel Assimi Goita during a wreath-laying ceremony at the Independence Monument in Bamako, Mali on SeptemberIdrissa Diakite (EFE)

Northern Mali has caught fire again in the last two months as a result of intense fighting between the Armed Forces and the Tuareg rebels, which have reactivated the old conflict in the region after a decade of precarious calm. These clashes, together with an unprecedented escalation of jihadist attacks, have caused at least 650 deaths between August and September, according to data from the Acled organization.

The progressive withdrawal of the United Nations mission, which began in August and will culminate next December, and the occupation of its bases by the Malian Armed Forces and their Russian allies from the Wagner mercenary group, have been the triggers of this wave. of violence. Malian soldiers and Tuareg rebels, who aspire to create their own state which they call Azawad, are fighting for control of strategic towns. And the jihadists, also dissatisfied with the advance of the Armed Forces towards the north, take advantage of the instability to harass the army.

Hostilities began in early August and intensified as the United Nations Mission for the Stabilization of Mali (Minusma) withdrew from its bases, as demanded by the Malian military junta in June. In August, Minusma handed over four barracks to the Armed Forces, specifically those of Ogossagou, Ber, Goundam and Ménaka, which were quickly occupied by the army and Russian instructors from the private company Wagner, with which the Malian Army has collaborated since the end. 2021. The Tuareg rebels, gathered in the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), consider this movement a violation of the 2015 Algiers peace agreements that ended the previous rebellion in 2012.

After the first skirmishes in Ber, on August 13, the most intense fighting took place in Bourem and Léré, in mid-September, and in Dioura and Bamba in recent days. In all cases, the Tuareg separatists took control of the military bases located in said towns to abandon them hours later, thus avoiding air attacks, taking prisoners and numerous weapons with them. The attack on Dioura last Thursday cost the lives of 81 soldiers, according to the rebels, while the Government alleges that it was a “kamikaze terrorist attack” without specifying the number of victims.

This Monday, a large Malian military column with Russian support, made up of 119 vehicles and air cover, left the city of Gao towards the region of Kidal, the historical fiefdom of the Tuaregs. Another convoy took the same direction from the city of Bourem. All of this points to a strong reaction by the Armed Forces after the successive defeats against the separatists on the battlefield. “The Malian army will be deployed in all places where Minusma was,” Colonel Souleymane Dembelé, head of communication for the Armed Forces, said on Monday, which includes the conflictive region of Kidal.

“The army has decided to go on the offensive in view of the attitude of the insurrectional armed groups that have harassed it in recent times,” explains researcher Boubacar Ba, director of the Center for Analysis on Governance and Security in the Sahel. “According to several sources, Tuareg fighters from Niger allied with Kidal armed groups have moved as reinforcements to northern Mali for the decisive battle of Kidal. A real war scenario is being set in motion. The next few hours will be decisive. The Armed Forces and their allies have initiated a counterinsurrectionary war strategy to reconquer the Kidal region.” In the opinion of this expert, the army intends to take control of this region by force to later launch talks with the Tuareg rebellion.

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Relations between the military junta that has ruled Mali since 2020 and the Tuareg rebels have deteriorated over the months. The Malian military has always been hostile to armed groups that in January 2012 launched a violent offensive against the State, for which they allied themselves with jihadist groups. Not even the signing of the Algiers peace agreements in 2015, which granted greater autonomy to the northern regions and in particular to Kidal under Tuareg control, changed the sentiment of the military and, in part, the spirit of revenge against the independentistas is behind his seizure of power.

In parallel, the main jihadist actor in northern Mali, the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (JNIM), has taken advantage of all this instability to also launch an offensive against civilians and the Armed Forces. This terrorist group is responsible for violent attacks in recent weeks, such as the one against a boat full of civilians on the Niger River or against the Acharane military post, where there were Malian soldiers and Russian mercenaries. Now, it is also trying to drown the civilian population through the blockade of the city of Timbuktu, which has lasted since August, and those announced this week against Gao and Ménaka. The jihadists prevent the entry of food and fuel into the aforementioned towns. JNIM leader Iyad Ag Ghali is a former Tuareg rebel originally from Kidal.

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