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The French army is ready to land a major clash with rebels in Mali. Soldiers were eliminated today from the capital city of Bamako towards Diabaly, which lies approximately 350 kilometers north and taken in Monday by the Islamists, reported BBC.
The convoy, which is designed to Diabaly is about 30 armored vehicles. The French army is attacking rebel positions till now from the air. Land beginning operations was confirmed by the Chief of the French army, Admiral Edouard Guillaud. "In the coming hours - but I can not say whether this will be only one hour or 72 hours - we will deal with them directly," he told for radio Europe 1st.
It is still early days in the unpicking of events at In Amenas but already this must go down as the most extreme episode in the Sahara for many years, if not decades. There will surely be severe restrictions on access to the Algerian desert and for a long time.
Given the change in tactics from AQIM, it is difficult to know exactly what to expect next from the perspective of Saharan travel. If AQIM thought they would be able to take dozens of hostages away and blow up the gas plant, then they seriously misjudged things. Recall, though, that Algeria appeared to allow AQIM (as they were later called) to transit the Algerian desert to N.Mali with some 17 hostages back in 2003. If they were expecting the same again in In Amenas, then it seems unlikely they would bring along those explosive belts and gear up for the protracted sit-in. If AQIM planned on a one-way ticket, then they would have known ahead of time that they would lose all hands. The question then becomes who can bear the greatest losses: oil companies/Algerian state Vs AQIM. AQIM I would have thought given the perspective of martyrdom. This, along with the fact that AQIM cannot realistically take on France in a conventional war, means that we should expect more attacks along these lines. In Anemas will force France to firm up its resolve in Mali. French action in Mali will force AQIM to respond with more such episodes. Its a horrible feedback loop.
Why In Amenas? A simple answer is that it is 25 km from the Libyan border, which was their planned entrance and exit(?) point. 'Liberated' Libya is sufficiently lawless not to be able to respond. But some reports say AQIM arrived into In Amenas from N Mali and did not transit Libya. It is far shorter that way (N.Mali - Algeria direct). NATO would prefer us to think Libya played no part - it makes them all feel better about the mess that has been made in Libya. One thing that can't be denied, the weaponry derived from the Libyan mess. Probably some of the recruits too.
Considering what David Cameron has just told the MPs:
"We will contribute British intelligence and counter-terrorism assets to an international effort to find and dismantle the network that planned and ordered the brutal assault at In Amenas. We must work right across the region"
It is not just Algeria but almost all of the Sahara that will soon be too dangerous for bona fide travellers carrying a British passport.
Apart from the tragic loss of lives in Algeria, I suspect it is going to affect us in many different ways across the whole region.
We have grown used to the friendly disposition of local people who saw tourists in the Sahara as a source of income, worth protecting as a kind of business asset. Now, any tourist can be suspected of being an "intelligence and counter-terrorism asset" of this or another government. Attitudes will harden, movement wil be severely restricted, and a chance meeting with smugglers' scouting patol (we once had near the Libyan border) is now less likely to end up with a friendly pat on the shoulder.
I am slightly less pessimistic since Aqim is now for the first time being attacked on a great scale, the way it should have been done years ago, pre-Libya, when the problem would have been more manageable.
The events at In Amenas only serve to deepen the resolve and also hushing all potential critics of the French operation in Mali.
It took the rebellion AND the coup d'etat to make this possible.
Most reports from Mali say that jihadists are on the run and that the population are positive to the French, the Tricolor flying next to the Malian flag in many villages - a most surprising development, unthinkable not long ago. Refugees already start to return.
There is little or no local support for the bearded guys, even less after their heavy-handed attempt at laying strict sharia on the population - they should by now be fiercely against those pakistani imams the saudis have been sending their way for many years. And recruiting should become harder.
I hope Qatar is meeting high-level resistance in their scheme to support the jihadis.
With a large but limited number of vehicles, arms and martyrs available, how long will Aqim last?
Why did the beards leave TB2 and Gao? Many said the problem with this war would be fighting in city streets and the unavoidable collateral damage, but Mujao and Aqim seem to have solved that problem by leaving voluntarily.
We are all targets now. I am often thinking of the Swedish biker who was just spending a day or two in TB2 fourteen months ago on his way across the continent. It could happen to anyone.
I agree with pf. The situation Roman describes largely existed (or could have) long before In Amenas. And encounters with smugglers are always initially to be feared - usually by both parties.
It may take a while but at least the long awaited pushback has begun - given extra impetus by In Amenas. The problem of course will be keep them out of north Mali - a tall order. In the old days I imagine the Kel Ifoghas quietly got on business via Ikhalil. Now it's become rather a lucrative route/region.
Why did the beards leave TB2 and Gao?
I was wondering that too - seems as suicidal as In Amenas. Did they did not anticipate the French response? The old govt is long gone. (This article makes the former links clear).
I have seen no mention of the ~10 hostages still up there. That could be their final gambit I suppose, when the time comes.
I think the analysis above by Chris Scott and Priffe makes a great deal of sense. It is better than a lot of the stuff you read in the media at the moment which is, I suppose, quite natural as last week those guys were reporting on and writing about Iraq or Syria and have had a week to learn what we have been following here, in the Sahara, for years.
I do have one point of departure which stems from Priffe's points:
"The events at In Amenas only serve to deepen the resolve".
This I agree with.
"There is little or no local support for the bearded guys, even less after their heavy-handed attempt at laying strict sharia on the population - they should by now be fiercely against those pakistani imams the saudis have been sending their way for many years. And recruiting should become harder. "
Which I also agree with.
"Aqim is now for the first time being attacked on a great scale"
which again I agree with.
All these observations make it clear that AQIM is under stress for the first time. It is also for the first time that they have done something on the scale of the events in In Amenas. In my mind the two (AQIM under stress and radical response in attacking In Amenas) are connected. It is as though AQIM know their options are narrowed with airstrikes now aimed at them. They can't fly their own airforce in response. But they can up the stakes and do things like the In Amenas attack. So there is cause and effect going on here. While AQIM is being dealt blows for the first time since 2003, they are also lashing back in a more desperate way. We can expect an escalation as part of this process. In that sense I think Roman's pessimism might have a case. If so, let's hope it is very much time-bound.
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