Mali-Mauritanian Joint Counterterrorist Patrols Begin in Sahara/Sahel
November 11, 2010
Malian troops rendezvoused with Mauritanian forces roughly 50 miles north of Timbuktu last week as the two nations began joint counter-terrorism patrols in northern Mali designed to eliminate the presence of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s southern command. It is the first time Malian troops have joined their Mauritanian counterparts, who conducted operations with French military support in northern Mali in July and September of this year. The new patrols are expected to cover both sides of the common border in the Sahara/Sahel region.
According to a Malian officer attached to the new force, “Today we are in the Malian desert. Tomorrow, together we can, we will go into the Mauritanian desert. The problems of Mali are the problems of Mauritania and the problems of Mauritania are those of Mali” (AFP, November 4).
Mali’s army chief of staff, General Gabriel Poudiougou, arrived in Mauritania on November 4 to discuss military cooperation between the two nations, which have had serious differences in the last two years over the appropriate response to AQIM’s growing operations in the Sahara/Sahel region (Sahara Media, November 5; AFP, November 4). Mauritania has been criticized in some quarters for acting as a Western proxy, especially on behalf of France and the United States, both of which have been involved in training Mauritanian troops. Mauritanian President Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz denounced those who “have been echoing the propaganda of the enemies, accusing us of waging war by proxy… All these rumors, all this false propaganda, will only reinforce our determination to defend our country and preserve its independence and sovereignty” (Ennahar [Algiers], October 24).
The patrols start as four AQIM members were reported killed in an attack carried out by Arab tribesmen from the Timbuktu area, allegedly a well-planned response to the AQIM assassination of Lieutenant Colonel Lamana Ould Bou, a Malian intelligence officer and a leader of Mali’s Bérabiche Arabs (AFP, November 4). The clash would mark an important setback for AQIM, which has worked hard to establish links with the Bérabiche community, though Malian security forces deny the encounter took place. Mauritanian troops have been trying to win over the loyalty of local tribes through the distribution of tea, sugar and medicines (AFP, November 7).
France’s Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE – French external intelligence) and various French Special Forces and Air Force units are deeply involved in the ongoing search for five French nationals and two African employees kidnapped from the French uranium works at Arlit in northern Niger. The men were taken by AQIM in mid-September and are believed to be held at AQIM bases in northern Mali. Though the French are ready to act once the hostages are located, Paris also hopes to avoid a direct military confrontation with AQIM. According to French armed forces chief-of-staff Admiral Edouard Guillaud, France, the region’s former colonial power, “should be careful not to provide AQIM with the enemy it needs to exist and prosper” (Le Monde, November 4).
This article first appeared in the November 11, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor