Conflict in Mali

Malian Gov't faces Tuareg Rebels

If the international community truly desires to engage in a global “War on Terror”, terrorism must be met on all fronts, not only in regions containing Western assets.

Conflict Summary

In January 2012, Tuareg rebels led an assault on northern Mali, occupying the region and effectively declaring war on the national government. The rebels proceeded to declare independence from Mali, claiming that the rebel held land in northern Mali was now the separate African state of Azawad. The situation worsened in March when the Malian government was overthrown in a violent coup led by former military officer Amadou Sanogo. Since then, the Malian government has engaged Turaeg rebels in armed conflict, seeking to regain the rebel occupied territory in the north. The scene further complicated in January of 2013 when the Islamist groups Ansar Dine and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Keenan), who aided the Tuareg in securing the independence of Azawad, betrayed the Tuareg rebels with the intent of forcing Islamic Sharia Law throughout Mali. The Islamist rebels fared well against the Malian military for most of January, consistently gaining territory during their campaign south. Eventually, Sanogo was forced to request the aid of Mali’s former colonial parent France, who responded with significant military aid. The combined French and Malian forces quelled the Islamist rebellion and effectively reclaimed most of north Mali – including Azawad.

Conflict Causes

The murder and removal from power of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi had unintended repercussions throughout Northern Africa. Neighboring countries, in particular Mali and Niger, were inundated with swarms of militant individuals returning home after failing to serve Gaddafi. In other words, ”his downfall precipitated tbe return to the Sahel (Niger and Mali) of thousands of angry, disillusioned and well-armed fighters who had gone to seek their metaphorical fortunes by serving the Gathafi regime” (Keenan 13). This only added to the tension in Mali and ultimately prompted the Taureg group to come together and fight back. After a Taureg rebellion in the beginning of 2012, a group of Islamic extremists have been in control of an area of the country called Azawad.”For several months, the international media have been referring to northern Mali as ‘Africa's Afghanistan’” (Kennan 13) as the Taureg rebels are still inciting violent protests against the strict Islamic laws enforced by the government. This conflict has caught the attention of the international community, but only France has begun to offer military intervention.


The spread of Islamic influence throughout Africa is troubling to the Western world because it's a source of conflict in the continent and implicit in the creation of African sanctuaries for individuals suspected of terrorist activities (Formanek). However, outside of France, the lack of western support during the crisis in Mali displayed the West’s refusal to publicly interfere in the activities of Islamic groups in Africa – even those formidable enough to occupy the entire nation of Mali. Only recently have other western nations such as the United States, Great Britain, and Germany begun escalating operations inside Mali (Formanek). The severity of the conflict in Mali has the Western powers fearing that the conflict may re-ignite or further hostilities in other West African nations (Formanek). The West’s greatest fear is a West Africa controlled by Islamist extremists.

In the short term, the conflict in Mali has created a humanitarian crisis and displaced or killed thousands of Malians (Formanek). In the long term, the conflict in Mali has created a fault line of instability in West Africa that threatens to cause aftershocks in other nations within the region. It is significant that students understand the issue, for it is key in this interconnected world to remain current on on-going international conflicts. Mali is also an intriguing analysis of the nature of Islamist extremism in Africa, and an example to the next generation of how such insurgencies have been successfully quelled in the past.

Timeline of Activity

Nov. 2011 - Jan. 2012:
Following Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s fall, Tuareg separatists return to Mali and, with the Islamist rebels, begin a quest to seize Mali’s north. The violence, combined with a severe drought, sends around 200,000 people into Niger, Mauritania, and Burkina Faso.
March 22, 2012:
Military officers, angered by setbacks in fight in fight with Tuareg rebels in north, overthrow the democratically elected government of President Amadou Toumani Toure.
April 1, 2012:
Rebels close to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or AQIM take control of Mali’s ancient city of Timbuktu, drive Tuareg separatists into the desert. Then, the Islamist militants demolish tombs inside the city’s oldest mosque.
April 7, 2012:
After a two-week blockade imposed by West African neighbors, coup leader Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo, a US -trained junior officer, agrees to hand power to a civilian government.
April 12, 2012:
Diouncounda Traore, former president of the National Assembly, is sworn in as interim president.
May 21, 2012:
President Traore suffers minor head injuries when protesters storm his palace to demand his resignation.
June 2012:
Al Qaeda-backed Islamist militants take control of Gao, after wrestling control of north from Tuareg separatists.
Sept. 11, 2012:
Islamic rebels with AQIM are linked to attacks on US consulate sites in Libya that kill the US ambassador there and three other Americans.
Dec. 11, 2012:
Malian soldiers march into the prime minister’s house and force his televised resignation. President Traore appoints Django Cissoko, a university professor and presidential aide, to succeed Cheick Modibo Diarra, who was prime minister since August
Dec. 20, 2012:
UN Security Council authorizes the deployment of an African-led military force to aid the defeat of al Qaeda and other Islamist militants in northern Mali
. Jan 11, 2013:
French President Francois Hollande announces French military intervention to stop adavances by the rebels.
Jan 14, 2013:
Islamist rebels take control of the town of Diabaly.
Jan 22, 2013:
French troops drive a campaign to help a weak Malian army regain control of towns from rebel hands, including Timbuktu and Gao.

Conflict Resolution/Alternatives

Essentially, at this time the conflict is winding down. The French and Malian government have effectively ousted the Islamist rebels from most occupied land, with government forces currently seizing Kidal - the last major Islamist stronghold in Northern Mali (CNN). It is, at this point, too late to consider an alternative course of action to the one taken by France and Mali - the complete annihilation of all active Islamist extremists and the usurpation of Sharia law. However, very few alternative solutions were available to the international community. As suggested earlier, Islamists are generally difficult to negotiate with. Extremist religious indoctrination often does not permit indoctrinated individuals to accept compromise in most forms - which is one of the primary reasons these groups engage in constant hostilities in the first place. It is doubtful the leadership of the Islamist groups operating in Mali would concede Azawad for any logical compensation outside of territory or military concessions - something France nor Mali would be willing to sacrifice. From a French/Malian perspective, it is logical to simply forcibly remove the Islamist rebels from Northern Mali and reclaim Azawad. The rebels maintained no stable government outside of the oppressive Sharia Law, and the population of Mali suffered greatly as a result; earning the conflict the label of “Humanitarian Crisis” (CNN). The Malian government rightfully perceived the Islamist rebels as a direct threat to national security and acted to eradicate the menace. It is difficult to argue that any other nation would have done any different in the same situation.
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