When the end of ceasefire was announced last week, it was a worrying sign. Little did we expect the series of events following this when, on Thursday Islamists forces announced they had re-entered the key town of Kona. Government forces exchanged fire fairly quickly in response to this new incursion. This is an important strategic moment for two reasons. Firstly it showed that the Islamists felt able to expand the area under their control, and that the for the Malian Government, further Islamic advancement to the south was a line in the sand that they couldn’t allow the northern forces to cross.
This resulted in a raising of tension across both sides of the border on Thursday night as civilians in Mopti and Djenne started to evacuate, fearing more violence.
The fears of civilians near demarcation zone were confirmed as on Friday the Malian President announced a state of emergency in the country(fr) for an initial ten days saying, “the situation on the front is generally under control ” and called for , “general mobilization “around the Malian army. The Malian army moved north to secure the demarcation zone and beyond to re-take Konna with the support of French troops that were pledged by President Hollande. As this occurred international support across Africa and the EU swung behind Mali, but coupled with calls from the French and British Governments for all of their nationals to leave immediately. While reports of Nigerian and Senegalese troops supporting Malian troops out of Sévaré were made, the Senegalese government at least denied their troops were present. The United States also pledged support with logistical support and drones (fr).
On Saturday French forces continued air strikes on targets in northern Mali and even as far south as Mopti. Saturday also brought the confirmation that 500 troops from Nigeria and Bukina Faso would support the Malian army. Friday also indicated that the French forces had lost a pilot in the fighting due to small arms fire. France has now stepped it’s national security in the wake of this intervention and their recent actions in Somalia. Despite that risk, this piece, gives an opening analysis of why France decided to act now.
In the fighting around Kona and the Demarcation zone, eleven Malian soldiers were reported dead and at least eleven civilians including 3 children who drowned trying to cross the river to safety.
Britain also pledged support, with the Prime Minister saying, “These developments show the need to make urgent progress in implementing UN Security Council resolutions on Mali, and ensure that military intervention is reinforced by an inclusive political process leading to elections and a return to full civilian rule”. This initial encouraging statement that thinks beyond the crisis is important, however many Malians may see the use of British transport aircraft in the conflict as more important right now.
On Sunday French Pilots continued to bombard targets in Northern Mali, including Gao. While external commentators see this as, “an emergency patch in a very dangerous situation” many Malians see this as the start of the fight back, “We are very proud and relieved that the army was able to drive the jihadists out of Konna. We hope it will not end there, that is why I’m helping in my own way” (ibid).
What is unclear right now is which one of these two options this is. If it is just a patch, that leaves the options of a prolonged and bloody series of battles as the status quo is maintained. If it is the fightback, the question of whether this was planned, and whether the respective armies and countries are capable of pushing out the forces of Northern Mali. What already raises concerns is the limited reporting of the civilian cost to this conflict, and whether this fast tracking means that long term thinking about the civilian cost in and after the battles have been fought will result in a long term disaster for the people of Northern Mali.