France which has been engaged in a military campaign against Islamist militants and ethnic rebels in Northern Mali since early January is planning to start withdrawing its forces next month and hand over command over the operation to AFISMA, the African military force drawn mainly from neighbouring countries. Fighting, however, remains fierce, especially in the mountainous Northern part of the country near the border with Algeria where al-Qaeda-linked militants regrouped after they were driven out of Mali’s Northern cities as a result of air assaults by French forces. On Friday at least 13 Chadian soldiers, who were part of AFISMA were killed in what a senior African commander called a mission designed to ‘eradicate’ not merely contain jihadis.
Alongside traditional counter-insurgency tactics such as the operating of check points and the gathering of human intelligence among the local population in order to identify militants, AFISMA is also engaged in an information campaign in the Malian media aimed at ‘winning the hearts and minds’ of the population.
As the conflict drags on, civilians suffer exponentially as comparisons to the situation in Somalia by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) highlight. As in war-torn Somalia civilians are being cut off from humanitarian aid with certain parts of the country inaccessible due to fighting and landmines. On a more general note the ICRC expresses concerns over the negative consequences for civilians from the lack of security in Mali as bombings and raids by insurgents continue even after the French ‘securing’ of Mali’s Northern cities.
On Friday Russia announced its decision to send humanitarian aid to Mali as the Russian Foreign Office grows increasingly concerned about the ‘activity of terrorist organizations in the North of the country’ and its implications for regional security. Although it backed a UN Security Council resolution sanctioning military intervention in Mali, Russia criticised the French-led intervention receiving European and American logistical and financial support by remarking that the rebels confronting French and African forces in Mali today were the same fighters that the West had armed against Gaddafi.
The US stepped up its logistical support of the mission by stationing 100 troops in neighbouring Niger to assist the French and African forces with “intelligence sharing”.
On Thursday an attack by armed men on a village situated in Nigeria’s Plateau state killed 10 civilians. Among the victims were four children. The Plateau state sits at the dividing line between the mostly Muslim north and the Christian-dominated south in central Nigeria and is part of a region with a long record of ethnic and religious conflict. The background to this most recent attack remains unclear as no particular group has claimed responsibility so far.
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
African leaders have signed a UN-brokered peace deal on Sunday aimed at bringing peace to the conflict-ridden Eastern part of the DRC and paving the way for the deployment of a regional military force to take on the M23 rebels who have brought displacement and continued conflict to the region. The peace deal includes the leaders of countries such as Rwanda and Uganda who have been accused by UN experts of stoking the rebellion by M23 fighters.
Amid debates about the withdrawal of Western forces from Afghanistan scheduled for the end of next year, Afghanistan’s President Karzai gives US special forces two weeks to withdraw from Wardak province, west of Kabul. The decision by the Afghan National Security Council was initiated by accusations of torture and the killing of innocent civilians made by villagers in the province against members of the Afghan security forces working for American special forces. Accusations were not aimed at US security forces themselves.
Regarding the future presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan, the US indicated in a Pentagon statement delivered on Friday that post-2014 the overall NATO-presence in the country could amount to 8,000-12,000 troops. Their two main missions would be to continue eradicating al-Qaeda remnants and train the Afghan security forces to eventually achieve a complete handover of responsibility to national forces.
On Friday 22 gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms killed seven members of a government-backed militia in a town in the northern part of Iraq. Although no group has claimed responsibility commentators have attributed this latest incidence of violence to attempts by Sunni insurgents to provoke unrest against the Shiite-dominated government of President Nuri al-Maliki.
Two bombs went off in Hyderabad on Thursday killing 16 and wounding over a 100 civilians. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack so far. Home minister Shinde who visited the site following the blasts stated that it remained unclear who was behind the attack.
by ICSR research intern Hannah Ellerman