Mission in Mali far from accomplished

Andy Morgan writes: The National Movement for the Liberation of Azwad (MNLA) are reported to have wrenched control of Kidal back from the Touareg-led Islamist militia Ansar Dine. They also claim to control a number of other strategic towns in northern Mali, including Tessalit and Leré. That’s quite a turn-around for the avowedly secular Touareg nationalist movement who were ousted from the region last June by the Islamist coalition after a bloody gun fight in the city of Gao. Most people thought they were a busted flush, outgunned and outmanoeuvered by better funded, better armed and better disciplined Islamist troops. Not so, it seems.

Although they’re now firmly entrenched in Kidal, the MNLA still fear reprisals from the remnants of the three Islamist groups – AQIM, MUJAO and Ansar Dine – who have held Northern Mali in their puritanical grasp since last April. Mujahedeen who have been fleeing as the main northern cities – Douentza, Gao and Timbuktu – have fallen like nine-pins to the advance of French and Malian forces, are said to be regrouping in the remote Tegharghar mountains north of Kidal. But I doubt they’re planning a counter attack on the town, which has been at the epicentre of all the Touareg uprisings in northern Mali since 1962. The Islamists coalition, or what’s left of it, has already switched from occupation to insurgency mode. Holding cities is no longer part of their strategy.

Somehow, the MNLA has found the finance and backing to take Kidal, from where they will try to negotiate a settlement, even some kind of collaborative partnership with the French in a desperate attempt to avoid their town being handed back to the Malian army and placed under a martial law far worse than the one imposed on it between 1964 and 1990. Either that or Alghabass Ag Intallah, the heir to the chiefdom of the local Ifoghas “nobility” and leader of the Islamic Movement of Azawad (MIA), has decided to let the MNLA back into Kidal because they see a deal with the nationalists as the best way of saving their own skins and avoiding execution/arrest/the ICC as well as the terrible vengeance of the Malian army. Yesterday’s demonstration in the town in favour of the MNLA and against Malian army occupation, with all the summary brutality against Touareg and Arabs that the local population fear it will bring, is clear proof that the secular nationalists are on the rise again and the Islamists are on the run. [Continue reading…]

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