Battles In 'The Middle of Nowhere'"The jihadists are in it for the long haul. They are comfortable in this situation: the vast desert, a difficult terrain, a precarious security situation. They will make a tactical withdrawal to get their breath back, but neither the Malian Army nor the French can crush them."
Alaya Allahi, Tunisian expert on Islamist movements
Now isn't that a usefully hopeful prediction? What nerve! On the other hand, this Tunisian expert sees the hard reality of what became of Western intervention in Afghanistan. That vast country, that difficult terrain, that precarious security situation. The Taliban, along with their honoured al-Qaeda guests made their tactical withdrawal. And, though they were pursued into the mountainous region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, they re-grouped.
The Taliban, resourceful and determined, gained new recruits, trained them well, convinced Afghan farmers to forsake edible crops for poppies and funded themselves to new arms through opium sales, then returned, season after season, once the spring thaw began in the great Karakoram mountains in the wild, fundamentalist Islamist tribal areas of both countries, to return to jihad to liberate Afghanistan from the infidels.
The Malian Islamists have their share of supporters, from the Sahara-based al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Nigerian Boko Haram jihadists, along with Somalia's al-Shabaab Islamists. "Our brothers in Mali, show patience and tolerance and you will win. Warplanes never liberate a land", encouraged Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, spokesman for al-Shabaab.
From Libya to Mali. Moammar Ghadafi's hated Taureg mercenaries abandoned Libya to the tribal animosities of the Libyans to viciously battle it out between themselves, and decamped with their weapons, with weaponry looted from abandoned Libyan military depots, to take advantage of Mali's military coup deposing its president, joined by al-Qaeda and all was suddenly right with their world.
"We have to consider them as real, trained soldiers. They have equipment for rebel groups everywhere, pickups with heavy machine guns, Kalashnikovs, rocket-propelled grenades. They also have AGS17, a multi-grenade launcher. We have to be careful", commented Lieutenant Benjamin Godard, with his own unit's mounted heavy machine guns on armoured personnel carriers.
Even as Britain, the United States and Canada have dispatched their heavy-lift planes to deliver equipment to the French troops, soon to be expanded from 800 to 2,500, security experts are warning that the French intervention in their former colony, although considered a needed anti-terrorism response, one blessed by the UN Security Council, other Islamist groups in the region could be preparing a backlash.
Airstrikes by the French, hitting weapons dumps and fuel depots in the Islamist fighters' strongholds of Gao, Timbuktu and Douentza where the Islamists have destroyed ancient heritage monuments and established stern Sharia law, lopping off the hands of thieves, have forced a temporary withdrawal. Which, as occurred in Afghanistan, will not last.
And despite which the Islamists marched on and captured a town and military base near the capital.
"The scale of northern Mali, the area under rebel control, is just vast. It's bigger than the whole of Afghanistan. No wonder Timbuktu has become the generic name for the middle of nowhere", said British Lieutenant Chris Knight, piloting an RAF C17 across Algeria, into Mali.