Tuareg rebels on March 5 called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate what they called war crimes committed by Malian government forces during the current conflict. "Soldiers have engaged in acts of torture, summary executions and forced disappearances" in several areas including Timbuktu and Gao, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) said in a statement. The movement said its lawyers have asked the ICC to open an investigation "into crimes committed by the Malian army against members of ethnic groups (such as) Fula, Tuareg, Arab and Songhai." (AFP, March 5)
Chad's military announced March 2 that its forces in Mali killed Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the renegade AQIM commander who apparently ordered January's attack on an Algerian gas plant where at least 37 hostages were killed. The statement on Chadian national TV said Belmokhtar was among several militants killed when its forces destroyed a "terrorist base" in the Adrar de Ifhogas mountains. One day earlier, Chad's President Idriss Deby said his forces had killed another al-Qaeda commander, Adelhamid Abou Zeid, in an operation in the same area near the Algerian border. Belmokhtar and Abu Zeid, both Algerians, were said to have been rival AQIM commanders in Mali. (Reuters, BBC News, March 2)
Radio France International (RFI) and French newspaper Libération claim that their reporters discovered, in the ransacked offices of the ORTM national TV station in Timbuktu, a document in which AQIM commander Abdel Malek Droukdel outlines his strategy for Mali. The news website Algérie 1 also publishes excerpts from the 79-page hand-written document dated July 20, 2012, entitled "Roadmap Relating to Islamic Jihad in Azawad." The document is portrayed as revealing a moderated vision of an Islamic state that could win the support of the Tuaregs while hiding the actual role of AQIM.
Some of the worst enemies of the Tuareg people are Westerners who make their livelihood by spreading fear and hatred for an entire population that they do not know. Several days ago, USA Today published an article [Feb. 14] by a young American reporter who wrote that "Tuaregs have long kept slaves," and implied that Tuaregs are still "taking slaves" today and holding them captive. This is incorrect. The Tuaregs do not own slaves today, and do not capture people or hold them as slaves. The reporter based her article largely on propaganda she heard from one individual in southern Mali.
President Obama announced Feb. 22 that about 100 US troops have been mobilized to Niger to help set up a new base for supposedly unarmed Predator drones to conduct surveillance in the region. The new drone base is to be located for now in the capital, Niamey. The only permanent US base in Africa is in Djibouti, but Niamey may now constitute a second. (NYT, Feb. 22) Also Feb. 22, Chad announced that 13 of its soldiers and 65 Islamist rebels were killed in a fierce battle in the mountain region of Adrar des Ifoghas, on Mali's border with Algeria. In other fighting that day, at Tessalit, on the edge of the mountains, two vehicles carrying civilians and members of the MNLA Tuareg rebel group exploded, killing three and wounding several others. (VOA, Feb. 22) A second car bomb attack in Khalil, on the Algerian border, left five MNLA fighters dead. (Reuters, France24, Feb. 22)
Britain's The Telegraph on Feb. 13 reports on a document reportedly found by their reporter in the ruins of a Gendarmerie Nationale barracks outside Timbuktu that had been used by the jihadists and then destroyed in a French air-strike. The document, purportedly the notes from a March 18, 2012 leadership meeting of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), chaired by AQIM "prince" Abu Musab Abdul Wadoud, is said to lay bare AQIM's plan to consolidate control of northern Mali, stating: "We had to think of the necessity to draw a plan to command and control the jihad activities there at this critical moment and target all efforts to achieve the required goals." The supposed document is portrayed as especially expressing concerns over Ansar Dine, the faction that controlled Timbuktu, as too independent.
Tension remains high in Gao after a pitched battle over the weekend as French troops beat back an attempt by MUJAO fighters to retake the remote northern Malian city. Jihadist fighters succeeded succeeded in taking a cluster of buildings in the center of town, including the former administrative building that had been used by MUJAO "Islamic police." After the builging was destroyed in a French helicopter assault, fighting ensued for hours over the ruins. French President Francois Hollande said his goal is that "not one space of Mali's territory be under the control of terrorists." A death toll could not immediately be established, but Col. Mamadou Sanake of the Malian army said, "Many Islamists were killed."
For days we have been wondering about the fate of Kidal, the last town in northern Mali that remains under rebel control. Unless you are paying close attention, you would not know that the rebels in Kidal are not jihadists—they are secular Tuareg separatists of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), who took the town from the local jihadist faction, Ansar Dine, at the same time that combined French and Malian forces were driving the jihadists from Timbuktu and Gao last month. French-led forces reportedly captured Kidal's airport last week but have held back on entering the town itself—an implicit acknowledgement of the sensitive situation, a desire to avoid opening a new insurgency with the MNLA but also to stop short of allowing them a zone of control. Now the French military says it is 1,800 soldiers from Chad that have entered Kidal. An astute choice.