On Tuesday French special forces captured the airport in Kidal, Mali. (Although the use of the term airport is a bit generous.) In an unanticipated move—the Malian army was not informed before the operation commenced—the French retook the last major urban centre that had been under Islamist control. This may well end the first phase of the war in Mali, i.e. the recapture of major cities and towns taken by the Islamists since last year. The next phase will be training the Malian army and securing the towns and cities taken by the French. But there is little indication that the latter task will be undertaken by the French army.
France registered several major victories over the Islamist rebels in Mali this past weekend. Most importantly, French and French-led forces have all but retaken the key cities of Gao and Timbuktu. That leaves only the major city of Kidal still in Islamist hands along with a scattering of smaller towns and villages.
As my infographic below illustrates, the combined French–Malian force struck out from central Mali along two different axes of advance: one headed towards Gao and the other towards Timbuktu. The African forces of Niger and Chad are flanking the Islamists in and around Gao while other African forces are expected to establish patrols in the cities and towns retaken by the French–Malian force.
Malian and French forces in Mali have begun to slowly retake cities and towns in the conflict zone and are slowly pushing into northern Mali, which has been held by the Islamists for nearly a year. My infographic for today looks at recent troop movements and the growing arsenal of French weapon platforms involved in the war.
If the conflict is highlighting anything about the French military, in my mind it is the lack of support elements in the French air force. France cannot transport, on its own, its heavier vehicles and helicopters without the assistance of its allies. The first week was largely supported by two British C-17 transport aircraft. Also of some note is the fact that despite the era of drones, France is still relying on human-piloted reconnaissance aircraft because of a lack of sufficient numbers of surveillance drones.
This morning’s graphic returns to Mali. The Malian and French forces are busy engaging the rebels at Konna and Diabaly while the rebels may be attempting to capture Banamba, only 90 miles from the capital Bamako. I also look a little bit more at the Tuaregs and then the basic timeline. That shows how much of the conflict can be traced back to the arming of the Tuaregs by Gaddafi during the Libyan Civil War and then those weapons, training, and experience returning to northern Mali at the end of that civil war.
Tuesday saw no particularly startling developments in the conflict in northern Mali. The French continued to reinforce their quick reaction forces and sent their troops north to Mopti and Niono. By Tuesday night, press reports indicated that the first joint Malian–French force had left Niono to attempt to retake the town of Diabaly. My infographic below uses the slight lull to expand further upon what forces the French are bringing to bear, who else has promised support to Mali, and lastly tries to show how the rebels are not a unified fighting force. Instead the rebels are at best a temporary alliance of disparate groups with different aims. (Click the image for the larger view.)
The tricky part about doing an infographic on a current event, like the conflict/war in northern Mali, is to keep the graphics updated and timely. Alas, I don’t have the necessary amount of time to do that. But, I still do want decent graphics explaining just what is happening.
With Mali, the hard part is that the Islamist/Tuareg rebellion against the democracy-overthrowing military government originally backed by the US in an attempt to beef up that military against the rebellion that then defeated that military is so far away and so foreign to much of the American public that so very much needs to be explained and be made relevant. This piece of mine doesn’t quite do that, but my infographic does attempt to show that France is now fighting a war far from its shores (and largely on its own). It also tries to highlight the fluidity of the ground war, especially around the fighting in and around Konna. Konna is the gateway to the city of Mopti which leads straight to the capital Bamako.