Magharebia (Washington DC)

17 January 2013

Mali: French, Local Troops Move Against Rebel Positions

Photo: Ministère de la Défense Française
A French military operation in Mali.

Nouakchott — The war against terrorists in Mali is quickly becoming a regional conflict, with troops from across the region on their way to join the fight.

The war against al-Qaeda and allied Islamist groups in Mali entered its seventh day on Thursday (January 17th) as French and Malian troops laid siege to rebel positions.

The intensive air attacks gave way to a ground operation on Wednesday as French troops backed by their Malian counterparts battled Islamist militants occupying the towns of Diabaly and Konna.

Meanwhile the chiefs of staff from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) approved an expedited plan on Wednesday to deploy 2,000 soldiers within ten days.

"All steps to liberate northern Mali have been agreed upon," Malian army Major Abdoulaye Diakite said. However, he did not disclose details of the plan.

The first troops from Nigeria were due to begin arriving in Mali on Thursday. The UN-backed intervention force will also include soldiers from Niger, Burkina Faso, Togo, Senegal, Guinea and Ghana.

Chad, which is not a member of ECOWAS, also promised to send 2,000 troops, AFP reported. The first 200 troops of the Chadian contingent left for Mali on Thursday.

However, the nature of preparations and the need to co-ordinate and specify areas where the African forces would be deployed may prevent them from completing their final deployment before next week, journalist Baba Ahmed told Magharebia.

As part of the international efforts to combat the terrorist assault, the German government said Wednesday it would send two military cargo planes to transport ECOWAS troops to Mali. The announcement was made after a meeting between Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and ECOWAS chairman, Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara.

In a press conference held with the Ivorian president, Merkel said that providing this assistance was part of efforts to counter terrorism, which doesn't threaten Africa alone, but Germany and Europe as well.

The Ivorian president said that ECOWAS would play a pivotal role in the on-going war on terror and is rushing to make field deployments in support of the Malian army, noting that this would require European support.

Meanwhile, French President François Hollande said Wednesday evening before the French parliament that the military intervention in Mali was "necessary and legitimate and was under an international umbrella".

He confirmed that France would not be alone in this war, noting the growing support it is receiving from world countries, analyst Abdelhamid al-Ansari said.

"The French, who have won almost international consensus on the military intervention, must pay attention to the humanitarian dimension in this war by mobilising the moral dimension in their soldiers and Malian allies to avoid violations against populations," al-Ansari said.

Al-Ansari's warning came at a time when the International Criminal Court (ICC) said it had opened an investigation into conflict. The probe will focus on crimes committed in rebel held territory, where rights groups have accused the Islamists of using child soldiers and human shields.

"Different armed groups have caused havoc and human suffering through a range of alleged acts of extreme violence," ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said. "I have determined that some of these deeds of brutality and destruction may constitute war crimes."

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