Mali: Report on Situation in Areas Close to Frontline
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
A U.S. Special Forces soldier instructs Malian troops in counterterrorism tactics through a translator (right, in black turban) on the outskirts of Timbuktu. Photographs by Justin Bishop (2007).
Report by Malika Groga-Bada, special envoy to Mali: “Mali, The Strange War.”
When in Mopti and Sevare, one is closest to the northern Mali frontline. The armed Islamists are less than 200 kilometers away. The soldiers claim they are ready to do battle, but still refuse to see that, alone, they can do nothing or almost nothing... Report.
Seated behind a counter, Sister Evangeline follows instructions to the letter. “Where do you come from? Why are you here? For how long are you staying? “In Sevare, to rent a room at the John Bosco, a hotel belonging to the Catholic diocese, one must face a barrage of questions from the manager.
With a keen eye, she tracks the least hesitation. She justifies her attitude: “We are in a war zone. They have asked us to be very vigilant. “We” here refers to the administrative and military authorities of Mopti-Sevare. It is the stronghold, the last bulwark against armed Islamists who, since the end of March, control the entire north of Mali. With its National Guard, its Air Force camp, and its Army base, where the operational command post has been set up, Mopti-Sevare looks like a garrison town.
Bamako, the Malian capital is 600 kilometers away, but less than 200 kilometers separate Mopti and Sevare (two towns located about 10 km from one another) from Douentza, the first position occupied by the Jihadists. Beyond this line, there is neither administration nor public service. There is little or no health center. There is no fatigue dress with green, yellow, and red - the colors of the Malian flag.
As a matter of fact, in Douentza, one is no longer in Mali, but in a territory ruled with an iron fist by Tuareg rebels who, in a few months, supplanted the Tuareg rebels of the National Movement for the liberation of the Azawad (MNLA). No one dares dispute anymore the supremacy of Al-Qa`ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, and Ansar al-Din combatants led by Iyad Ag Ghali. In Douentza, there are veiled women. There is also the severing of hands and feet. There is stoning, whipping of smokers or consumers of alcohol... Less than 200 kilometers separate the inhabitants of Mopti and Sevare from the town of horror.
In Mopti, people are indifferent to the discussions going on in Burkina Faso involving Ansar al-Din and the MNLA. People scoff at the fact that the two groups have declared that they are ready for a “national dialogue” with Bamako. They attach little importance to the hesitations of politicians on the holding of national consultations, which are supposed to open the path to elections.
Statements made in Paris and New York are increasingly echoed from a distant in the local media. In Mopti, the only thing that counts is the proximity to the frontline, which they are sure will soon move. Omar Bathily, the mayor of the town, explains that he has “had to cope with an influx of refugees, a phenomenon that will surely increase with the resumption of fighting.” Nearly 4000 displaced persons have been recorded and humanitarian aid can hardly meet all needs.
In Sevare as well as in Mopti, the checkpoints make it possible to filter those who arrive. Soldiers sitting under tents or in the shadow of acacia trees control half-heartedly the comings and goings. The setup is not very convincing, but reassures - a little bit - the populations. “Here, you are safe, promises Sister Evangeline. The Army controls everything. They have arrested people... Did you know that ?”
The Malian and international press have relayed, by and large, the information: on 4 November, gendarmes intercepted an apprentice Jihadist, a French national of Malian origin, at the Sevare motor park. Ibrahim Ouattara was trying to go to Timbuktu on one of the rickety buses that still dare make the journey. Since then, “everyone has been watching everybody, says Mamoudou Bocoum, a journalist with Radio Kaoural, the community radio station. Each of us now has eyes behind the head. We do not want to see others land here or have jihadists infiltrating here and committing attacks.”
In his air-conditioned office of the Mopti governorate, Mamadou Gaoussou Traore, adviser on administrative and legal affairs, can still not believe it : “I am really at a complete loss. While heads are being knocked together on how to do away with the jihadists, there are youths in France who are seeking to joint them. It is crazy ! How can one think that (Editor`s note : the atrocities committed by the armed groups) are the practices of Islam ?” he says, before vaunting the tradition of tolerance that characterizes his region. “Mopti means bringing people together in the Fulani language. We have always lived together. We have to combat those who wish to use religion to hide their trafficking.”
Members of the Liberation Forces for the Northern Regions militia group in Mopti, Mali. Photo: Marco Gualazzini/The New York Times
Haggard and dusty
Is it a way of approving the intervention plan proposed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on which the United Nations must make a decision? No. Rare are those who are openly in favor of that. It is said in Mopti and Sevare that the only persons authorized to do combat are the Malian soldiers, even if they were seen coming back looking haggard and dusty after the debacle in March, when the northern garrisons fell one after the other, following the combined attacks of the MNLA and Ansar al-Din.
“It is a question of honor, hammers Moussa Maiga, a trader from Gao who has sought refuge in Mopti. The Malian Army has lost these towns. It is up to it to recapture them !” He does not have words harsh enough to describe these soldiers “who spend their time in eateries and who, at the least pretext, pick up fights with the youths of the town.” As the months pass, the cohabitation has become complicated and the commander of the region himself has had to restore calm.
Colonel Dacko, 45 years old, heads the Operational Control Post of the Army redeployed at Sevare after the fall of Gao. He belongs to the first class of the Kati Military School - quite a symbol for Malians who have a boundless admiration for the pioneers of the men in uniform.
Praises are showered whenever the name of this soldier from San, in the region of Segou, is mentioned. He is described by the staff of the sub-region`s military commands as an officer of great value, who has a high sense of love for the fatherland. His men refer to him as an “exceptional officer” who is “deeply hurt by the state of the Army.” In Sevare, a commander affirmed that “he saw him weep when he had to leave Gao.” He remembers: “He was the last person to leave. They had to force him to leave. Today he has only one wish : return to the front. “If there should be an intervention, Col. Dacko would be one of the key men of the military apparatus. It is not rare to see him driving round the town in his pick-up.
In June, he explained to Jeune Afrique magazine that he did “not need ECOWAS troops to liberate (Mali). An air support would be sufficient, but we can do without that. “Today, even though he has accepted to receive us late in the evening surrounded by his aides, he refuses to talk about military issues.
A telephone glued to the ear, watching out for the slightest information from the north as well as the south, he states that he is bound by the code of secrecy. He simply recognizes that he is champing at the bit, waiting for orders that will send him beyond Konna, a town located 70 km north of Mopti, where most of the Malian soldiers are camped. How many are they? Are they 4,000 or 5,000 men? The Army refuses to confirm the figures that are frequently advanced, but in Bamako, a source assures us that they are “more than 2,000.”
Pending the arrival of the instructors promised by the European Union, 17 French officers came to Sevare on 15 November to try to assess the needs of the Malian Army. A soldier explains under the cover of anonymity: “We need training in tracking. In the case of aerial shooting, we need qualified soldiers on the ground to give exact positions to the pilots of the planes. With regard to the rest, we can train our soldiers : the majority of us have studied in the United States of America, Algeria, and Germany,” he added with conviction.
Women members of a self-defense militia calling itself the FLN [Front for the Liberation of the North] train in Sevare, about 600 kilometers northeast of the capital Bamako, Mali, July 11, 2012.
This is a somewhat crazy optimism that disregards the balance of power, which is, for the time being, in favor of the armed groups, but in Bamako the big declarations of the re-conquest of the north have almost disappeared from official speeches. Prime minister Cheick Modibo Diarra affirmed that “dialogue was inevitable” and stressed that the MNLA and Ansar al-Din combatants were Malians - as opposed to foreigners who make up AQIM, with which there will be no possible negotiations.
The FDR (the coalition hostile to the 21 March coup d`etat) has manifested its disagreement. “It is out of the question to negotiate with people who have blood on their hands,” stated the Front`s deputy leader, Fatoumata Sire Diakite. The same goes for Yere wolo tone, an association, which is a member of the Coordination of Patriotic Organizations of Mali (Copam, supporter of the junta), which called for a protest march on 22 November to demand the resignation of the prime minister. For them and for many, one cannot envisage discussing with those who have taken up arms. “One group wants independence, another wants the application of the Shari`a... Neither of the two is possible. What are they going to discuss?” Ousmane Sylla, a Bamako trader, said in anger.
With regard to the military intervention, nothing indicates that it may kick off quickly. On 19 November, Romano Prodi, Ban Ki-moon`s special envoy to the Sahel, affirmed that nothing would be possible before September 2013. An audit of the Malian Army, which was carried out by international experts, has just begun, and the 250 European trainers will not be there before the end of the year. They are to train four battalions of Malian soldiers (2 600 men) at the Combined Military School (Emia) in Koulikoro, before their departure for the front.
Meanwhile, night is falling on Sevare. Eight soldiers packed in a pick-up vehicle are patrolling at reduced speed. At the Fiesta Club, one of the latest “trendy bars” that are still open, some people are drinking beer, others are dancing, but in a few hours tension will go up again. Here, henceforth, people wake up to the noise of automatic weapons.
(Description of Source: Paris Jeune afrique.com in French -- Website of the privately owned, independent weekly magazine; URL: http://www.jeuneafrique.com)
© Compiled and distributed by NTIS, US Dept. of Commerce. All rights reserved.
Malian Islamist group leader on intervention in north, ties with Algeria, France
BBC Monitoring Middle East
December 03, 2012
Text of report by Mauritanian independent news agency Al-Akhbar website
The emir of the Usamah Bin-Ladin battalion and member of the Shura Council of the Movement for Monotheism and Jihad in West Africa [MUJAO], Ahmed Ould Amer, has said that his group considers “the international threat as a universal destiny” and stressed that “it has got to be fought and driven out through fighting, jihad and incitement of Muslims to curb it”. He described this threat as “the world infidelity network which lies in waiting for the Shari`ah of the Merciful anywhere on earth where God enables His mujahidin to reach”.
Ould Amer, alias “Ahmed Tilemsi” accused in his first interview the countries neighbouring north Mali of being “renegade regimes in fact” and added that “they [his group] are required to fight them according to religious law because they refuse to and refrain from applying God`s Shari`ah”. He considered that it has now become “a fact that is no longer a secret for many ordinary Muslims despite the false arguments put forth by the royal courts` scholars who protect the thrones of these despots”.
Ould Amer considered in an interview with Al-Akhbar that the regimes of neighbouring countries will inevitably take part one way or another in the “expected [foreign] parties` attack”. He said “we are used to them being loyal servants to the worshippers of the cross in their war against God`s Shari`ah” which they will be targeting, and indicated that “the close renegade enemy will be the mujahidins` most important target in the short and long run”.
Ould Amer said that his movement would convey its demands to the French government in exchange for the release of French hostage Alberto Rodriguez Leal through intermediaries as soon as talks begin.
Ould Amer accused the Algerian regime of “deception and trickery” and added that the Algerian people had had enough of “the successive renegade governments that ruled it”. He considered that the Algerian regime is trying to appear in a different guise; proof of this is “what is happening to the hostages` families who have had enough of the reassurances of the Algerian foreign minister when they learned that contacts with the MUJAO have been at a standstill since the death of the deputy consul in Gao as a result of the Algerian government`s obstinacy”.
Ould Amer stressed that the MUJAO will not relinquish its demands concerning “the release of our brothers in the Algerian, Mauritanian and other prisons, and we will do whatever it takes to have them released in compliance with the saying of the Prophet, may God`s prayers and peace be upon him: Liberate the captives.”
Here is the text of the interview:
[Al-Akhbar] What is your view regarding the situation in the region and the nature of the presence of your group in it?
[Ahmed Ould Amer] Thanks be to God who honours the faithful and humiliates polytheism and polytheists, and prayers and peace be upon his Prophet. The situation in the region is encouraging for Muslims to work and go forward in raising the banner of jihad and confronting the enemies of the nation in total determination and resolve to spread jihad, especially since God Almighty has made it the fate of mujahidin to conquest, hold power and establish Shari`ah on the land. Therefore, we call upon Muslims to join the arenas of preparation and jihad to protect this Shari`ah, for which they were created, from attacks by the enemies and their agents from our own people, and to pay any price for the preservation of the tenets of the chosen [Prophet]`s Shari`ah among Muslims.
[Al-Akhbar] The pace of international threats is accelerating. How will you deal with foreign threats?
[Ahmed Ould Amer] The international threats are a universal destiny since God Almighty has said: “For, if God had not enabled people to defend themselves against one another, [all] monasteries and churches and synagogues and mosques - in [all of] which Gods name is abundantly extolled - would surely have been destroyed [ere now]. And God will most certainly succour him who succours His cause: for, verily, God is most powerful, almighty.” This threat has got to be fought and driven out through fighting, jihad and incitement of Muslims to curb this world infidelity network which lies in waiting for the Shari`ah of the Merciful anywhere on earth where God enables His mujahidin to reach. As far as we are concerned, they [the enemies] will only be met with what harms and angers them, God willing, and with what heals the hearts of the faithful community. The poet said: There is no logic between us [and them] other than that of the sword.
We incite the youth of Islam to hit the interests of the forces of infidelity and apostasy until God curbs and disbands them.
[Al-Akhbar] What kind of relationship do you have with the neighbouring countries, and do you have a message for them? Will you target them in case they take part in the international intervention against you?
[Ahmed Ould Amer] To correct the terminology being used, the neighbouring countries are the countries of tyranny against Islam and its community. They are renegade regimes in fact, and we are required according to religious law to fight them because they refuse to and refrain from applying God`s Shari`ah. It is a fact that this is no longer a secret to many ordinary Muslims despite the false arguments put forth by the royal courts` scholars to protect the thrones of these despots. They will inevitably take part one way or another in the expected [foreign] parties` attack. We are used to them being loyal servants of the worshippers of the cross in their war against God`s Shari`ah. The close renegade enemy will be the mujahidin`s most important target in the short and long run.
[Al-Akhbar] You are holding a few Algerian hostages and a French man. What are your demands to release them?
[Ahmed Ould Amer] The Algerian regime exercises deception and trickery towards the Algerian people who have had enough of the lies of the successive renegade governments that ruled it. Wealth is being looted, funds are being stolen and honours are being attacked. It is the right of this people known as “the people of the one and a half million martyrs” to rise to topple the unjust and shameless regime which acts as an agent par excellence of the worshippers of the cross. It has been taking part with the Gulf states in rescuing the Western countries from their financial crisis by pumping Muslim funds into the Crusader banks which are heavily relying on it [the Algerian regime] to finance the expected war in the region. This is in spite of the fact that the Algerian regime appears to be doing a complete opposite. The families of the hostages have had enough of the reassurances of the Algerian foreign minister when they learned that contacts with the MUJAO had been at a standstill since the death of the deputy consul in Gao as a result of the Algerian government`s obstinacy. We will not relinquish our demands concerning the release of our brothers in the Algerian, Mauritanian and other prisons, and we will do whatever it takes to have them released in compliance with the Prophet, may God`s prayers and peace be upon him, who said: Liberate the captives. As for the French hostage, we will submit our demands to the French government as soon as talks start to this effect.
[Al-Akhbar] What is the nature of your ties with the movements that share the control of the region with you?
[Ahmed Ouled Amer] Our ties are good with the jihadi groups present with us on the scene. We are bound by the ties of faith and jihad brotherhood as well as a joint destiny. We are all aspiring to achieve unity and establish an Islamic emirate in the region.
As for the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad [MNLA], it harbours enmity towards the mujahidin by rejecting the tenets of Islamic Shari`ah, practising injustice towards Muslims by taking their money without any justification, killing Muslims, and segregating between black Muslims, who have no rights, and white Muslims, who enjoy rights. The Prophet, may God`s prayers and peace be upon him, said: “O People, you have one God, and one Father. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor has a non-Arab any superiority over an Arab, nor has a black man any superiority over a white man over a black man except by the criterion of righteous practice.” The MNLA is attached to its secular project and satisfying the infidels and renegades. Through this, they are seeking to extinguish God`s light. God Almighty said: “They want to extinguish God`s [guiding] light with their utterances: But God will not allow [this to pass], for He has willed to spread His light in all its fullness, however hateful this may be to all who deny the truth.” The mujahidin have been able with God`s help to curb them [MNLA]. They pledge to slit the throats of anyone who follows in their steps.
The reader may not know that this secular movement was made of mercenaries in the service of Al-Maghawir battalion under the command of Ali Kannah in southern Libya. They fought Al-Qadhafi during his war against the Libyan people, then they came to the region (north of Mali) following French orders and with the coordination of the renegade Mauritanian government which tried to mobilize them to wage war on the mujahidin. Ever since the beginning of the events in the north of Mali, they used to attribute the mujahidins` actions to themselves out of lies, deceit and falsehood. In this context, they claimed the Ajalhok and Amshash operations, the conquest of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu. It is no secret that they had nothing to do whatsoever with these battles. There is no comparison between them and the Mujahidin who sent their best men to these battles. The following took part in the Ajalhok battle: Hamzah al-Shanqiti, explosives` expert, Khalid Hawn al-Shanqiti, who was known in the Wagadou battle in Mauritania, Zubayr al-Ansari al-Tamashiqi, who was the first Ansari to join jihad, and Abu-Shurayh al-Ansari al-Arabi... [ellipsis as published] and others.
In the Kidal battle, there was Hassan al-Shanqiti al-Fulani, his [real] name is Uthman Sal, who is a knowledge seeker. He was among the very first Shanqitis who joined jihad in the Sahara, and he is very much liked by all the mujahidin, and others.
In the Gao battle, there were two Dabakar Ansars, Mahmoud Ould Mohamed Sid Ahmed Ansari al-Arabi, Mohamed Ansari from the Kal Ansar tribe, and others). [Poetic verse] Those are my ideal, so give me more of the same, when big events bring us together. This [the above named people] is only a sample, as we do not have enough room here [to give you the full list].
It is known that none of them [MNLA] was hurt in these conquests. So, how can they claim them to themselves? This is for the entire world to be aware of the lies of this movement. We will be lying in wait for them and anyone else who stands in the way of implementing Islamic Shari`ah.
Source: Al-Akhbar website, in Arabic 1824 gmt 1 Dec 12
© 2012 The British Broadcasting Corporation. All Rights Reserved.