Magharebia (Washington DC)

29 October 2012

Mali: Military Experts Meet On Mali

Photo: U.S. State Department
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton shakes hands with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algiers, Algeria,.

Nouakchott — World powers are stepping up their preparations for a possible Malian military operation to retake the north.

Scores of European and Malian military experts on Sunday (October 28th) wrapped up week-long meetings in Bamako to take stake of the Malian army's needs and identify shortcomings ahead of a possible military intervention in the nation's north.

The Bamako meetings coincided with another security summit held in in Paris last Monday and Tuesday that brought together French military commanders, US diplomats and military experts, as well as representatives of Sahel-Saharan states, the African Union, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the European Union and the United Nations.

The Paris meeting aimed at discussing the security situation in the Sahel and preparing recommendations for the Malian army in terms of the formation of combat units, equipment and supplies, RFI reported October 23rd.

Hamadi Ould Dah, a security analyst, told Magharebia that the international forces were "depending on information provided by intelligence agencies through their monitoring of the type and size of weapons that arms smugglers and drug gangs have used since the fall of Kadhafi. This is in addition to tracking the course of Libyan weapons that have mostly been brought to the desert."

"The real challenge which will face international powers is not to know the terrorists' military capabilities only, but also to be able to expect surprises because they won't be waging a traditional war against a clearly defined enemy," Ould Dah added.

Abi Ould Zidan, a journalist who recently returned from a trip to Timbuktu, told Magharebia that he did not see any visible weapons except for some rockets hidden under cover.

"However, I think that the Islamist groups are depending much on the arms depots they seized after expelling the Malian army from the north," he added. "It's known that the Malian army's military bases contained significant quantities of weapons used to protect companies exploring for oil in Taoudenni basin."

Terrorists operating in northern Mali have been outspoken on the issue of international assistance for the Malian military. Omar Ould Hamaha, a leader with the Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), said that they were ready for all possibilities.

"If we want to kidnap French hostages in West Africa or in France itself, we can do this very easily," France's L'Express quoted him as saying October 13th.

Meanwhile, Mauritania is ramping up its military capacities ahead of a possible spillover of the terror threat next door.

Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer recently announced that it delivered the first of several A-29 Super Tucano warplanes to Mauritania on October 19th.

The new warplanes were "a message to al-Qaeda and other allied groups that control northern Mali and try to establish an African salafist emirate, telling them that Mauritania will proceed with its war on terrorism and enhance its capabilities to counter it", Ould Dah said.

The aircraft manufacturer declined to disclose the exact number of new warplanes because of a confidentiality clause with Mauritania. The company noted that the small Super Tucanos are used in multiple missions, including border surveillance, counterinsurgency and combat missions.

Mauritania's air force will use the Super Tucanos primarily for combing operations on the border with Mali. In the past, the Mauritanian military has used light attack aircraft to pursue terrorists, particularly during the June 2011 offensive in the Wagadou Forest.

"The Mauritanian army has a significant experience in using Tucanos in chasing the terrorist groups," journalist Moukhtar Ould Salem noted. "And this experience was the primary decisive factor in many battles that the army won against the armed groups."

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