Mali pledges all-out war against Tuareg rebels

President Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali vowed a harsh crackdown on the Tuareg guerillas Jan. 20. “All the means, I repeat, all the operational means will be mobilized because we cannot put a price on the securing our country,” said Toure, in a speech broadcast to mark the army’s 48th anniversary celebrations. Two days later, the Malian government said its forces had routed Tuareg rebels from a base in the north of the country. “Following an offensive by the Malian army, the base of Ibrahim Ag Bahanga located in Boureissa was destroyed. The toll on the side of the armed groups [Tuaregs] was 31 dead… [O]n the side of the national army, no losses,” the statement said.

Although the Tuaregs an Malian government signed a peace deal in 2006 in Algiers and another the following year, Ag Bahanga’s Democratic Alliance for Change has taken up arms again, charging the government with betrayal. (AFP, Jan. 20; AFP, Jan. 22)

On Jan. 12, the Malian government said it had attacked two rebel positions east of Kidal province in the north, as rebels separately freed two Energy of Mali (EDM) utility company employees they had kidnapped last week. “During a patrol, our troops… raided positions of Ibrahim Ag Bahanga. There were dead and wounded within the enemy ranks and eight prisoners,” a defense ministry official told AFP. (AFP, Jan. 12)

Two people were reportedly killed in grenade attacks by Tuareg rebels in Mali’s northern city of Gao Jan. 2. A servant was killed in the home of a local official and another man was seriously wounded in the house of a parliament member. One attacker was himself reportedly killed when a grenade exploded in his hand before he could throw it into the home of the head of a government development agency. (BBC News, Jan. 2)

President Toure made similar hardline noises following a raid on an army base in which at least 20 people were killed in late December. “Enough is enough. We cannot continue to suffer, we cannot keep counting our dead,” Toure said. “They are firing on anything that moves. They are firing on soldiers, they’re firing on civilians, what does all this mean?”

An attack by rebels on an army base at Nampala reportedly left at least nine troops and 11 rebels dead. A source close to Ag Bahanga told AFP at least 20 soldiers were killed. An international aid official said at least five civilians were also killed in the fighting. Toure emphasized that the Nampala base is “close to the different routes and paths that take drugs across the Sahara-Sahel strip.” (AFP, Dec. 22)

Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi, stopping in Mali on a tour of West African nations over the New Year holiday, called for the removal of all foreign troops from African soil. This was an unsubtle dig at his hosts, who have invited in US military advisors.

See our last posts on the Tuareg struggle and the struggle in the Sahel.