Mali: Civilian Militias Join Counter-Terror Fight in Mali

The task of freeing northern Mali from the grip of radical Islamists is no longer limited to outside mediators, African military forces and the Bamako government. Citizens are also training to save their country.

Ganda Koy (or "Lords of the Land" in the Songhoi language) has several thousand members, making it the largest militia in the coalition of armed civilians known as the Patriotic Resistance Forces (FPR).

Set up by experienced desert fighters in the northern city of Mopti, Ganda Koy has fought alongside Malian soldiers against the extremists trying to build a salafist emirate.

Now the militia is showing both men and women how to confront the occupiers of Azawad, put an end to the terrorists' heinous crimes and free their homeland.

With the issue of African troops in Mali still under discussion, experts say that the participation of the Ganda Koy fighters in the liberation of their country is of paramount importance. It also draws attention to the suffering of Malian civilians at the hands of armed extremists.

"There are a lot of Malians who decided to defend themselves and confront the armed groups, and yet remain powerless because they are the product of the deterioration of the current situation in northern Mali," Mauritanian journalist Rajel Omar said.

One problem, as the BBC noted, is that Ganda Koy suffers from a lack of weapons.

"The Islamist takeover of northern Mali has pushed citizens to consider the option of using arms and confronting terrorist themselves," noted The Guardian. "If they wait, it would give these terrorists time to occupy the region. According to the information and the situation on the ground, more terrorists are on their way."

Samira Mowaqi, a correspondent for Algeria's El Khabar, recently visited northern Mali. She met a number of insurgents in the northern Malian town of Khalil. They told her that they "had taken up arms to defend property and land".

"The nations with expertise, such as the countries of the Maghreb, should support Malian local groups in their fight against terrorism, because this is part of the solution," analyst Zine El Abidine Ould Mohamed told Magharebia.

"Local groups have experience in the region and must be supported and co-ordinated to face the armed groups controlling northern Mali," he added.

Maghreb nations may find it fruitful to work with Malian local groups and share information, said Faten Ould Mtala, a specialist in Maghreb affairs.

"These groups are seeking to combat terrorism, and intelligence co-ordination is important," he added. "Mauritania has considerable experience in this area."

The analyst added, however, that local citizen militias will have a hard time facing off against al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the MUJAO and other groups.

"I do not think that local communities opposed to terrorism have the capacity to cope with armed terrorist movements. These movements have substantial combat experience and an arsenal, and cannot be defeated by local militias -- at least at the current time," Ould Mtala said.

"There are a lot of Malians who decided to defend themselves and confront the armed groups, and yet remain powerless because they are the product of the deterioration of the current situation in northern Mali," said Mauritanian journalist Rajel Omar.

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