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Northern Mali conflict


On 16 January 2012, several insurgent groups began fighting a campaign against the Malian government for independence or greater autonomy for northern Mali, an area known as Azawad. The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), an organization fighting to make Azawad an independent homeland for the Tuareg people, had taken control of the region by April 2012. On 22 March 2012, President Amadou Toumani Touré was ousted in a coup d'état over his handling of the crisis, a month before a presidential election was to have taken place.[104] Mutinous soldiers, calling themselves the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and State (CNRDR), took control and suspended the constitution of Mali.[105] As a consequence of the instability following the coup, Mali's three largest northern cities—Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu—were overrun by the rebels[106] on three consecutive days.[107] On 5 April 2012, after the capture of Douentza, the MNLA said that it had accomplished its goals and called off its offensive. The following day, it proclaimed Azawad's independence from Mali.[108]
 
The MNLA were initially backed by the Islamist group Ansar Dine. After the Malian military was driven from Azawad, Ansar Dine and a number of smaller Islamist groups began imposing strict Sharia law. The MNLA and Islamists struggled to reconcile their conflicting visions for an intended new state.[109] Afterwards, the MNLA began fighting against Ansar Dine and other Islamist groups, including Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA/MUJAO), a splinter group of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. By 17 July 2012, the MNLA had lost control of most of northern Mali's cities to the Islamists.[110]The government of Mali asked for foreign military help to re-take the north. On 11 January 2013, the French military began operations against the Islamists.[77] Forces from other African Union states were deployed shortly after. By 8 February, the Islamist-held territory had been re-taken by the Malian military, with help from the international coalition. Tuareg separatists have continued to fight the Islamists as well, although the MNLA has also been accused of carrying out attacks against the Malian military.[111]A peace deal between the government and Tuareg rebels was signed on 18 June 2013[5] but on 26 September 2013 the rebels pulled out of the peace agreement and claimed that the government hadn't respected its commitments to the truce

Background  

In the early 1990s Tuareg and Arab nomads formed the Mouvement Populaire de l’Azaouad/Azawad People's Movement (MPA) and declared war for independence of Azawad.[113] Despite peace agreements with the government of Mali in 1991 and 1995 a growing dissatisfaction among the former Tuareg fighters, who had been integrated into the Military of Mali, led to new fighting in 2007.[114] Despite historically having difficulty maintaining alliances between secular and Islamist factions the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad allied itself with the Islamist groups Ansar Dine and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and began the 2012 Northern Mali conflict.[113]
 
The MNLA was an offshoot of a political movement known as the National Movement for Azawad (MNA) prior to the insurgency.[115] After the end of the Libyan civil war, an influx of weaponry led to the arming of the Tuareg in their demand for independence for the Azawad.[116] The strength of this uprising and the use of heavy weapons, which were not present in the previous conflicts, were said to have "surprised" Malian officials and observers.[117]Though dominated by Tuaregs, the MNLA stated that they represented other ethnic groups as well,[118] and were reportedly joined by some Arab leaders.[115] The MNLA's leader Bilal Ag Acherif said that the onus was on Mali to either give the Saharan peoples their self-determination or they would take it themselves.[119]Another Tuareg-dominated group, the Islamist Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith), initially fought alongside the MNLA against the government. Unlike the MNLA, it did not seek independence but rather the imposition of Islamic law (Sharia) across Mali.[120] The movement's leader Iyad Ag Ghaly was part of the early 1990s rebellion and has been reported to be linked to an offshoot of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) that is led by his cousin Hamada Ag Hama[121] as well as Algeria's Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité (DRS).[75]
Mali was going through several crises at once that favored the rise of the conflict:[122]
  • State crisis: the establishment of a Tuareg state has been a long-term goal of the MNLA, since it began a rebellion in 1962. Thereafter, Mali has been in a constant struggle to maintain its territory.
  • Food crisis: Mali’s economy has an extreme dependence on outside assistance, which has led Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to blockade, to subdue the military junta.[123]
  • Political crisis: The mutiny led to the fall of the president.

Tuareg rebellion (January–April 2012)  

The first attacks of the rebellion took place in Ménaka, a small town in far eastern Mali, on 16 and 17 January 2012. On 17 January, attacks in Aguelhok and Tessalit were reported. The Mali government claimed to have regained control of all three towns the next day.[124] On 24 January, the rebels retook Aguelhok after the Malian army ran out of ammunition.[75] The next day the Mali government once again recaptured the city.[124] Mali launched air and land counter operations to take back the seized territory,[125] amid protests in Bamako[126] and Kati.[127] Malian president Amadou Toumani Touré then reorganised his senior commanders for the fight against the rebels.[128]
 
On 1 February 2012, the MNLA took control of the city of Menaka when the Malian army operated what they called a tactical retreat. The violence in the north led to counter protests in the capital city of Bamako. Dozens of Malian soldiers were also killed in fighting in Aguelhok.[126] On 6 February, rebel forces attacked Kidal, a regional capital.[129]On 4 March 2012, a new round of fighting was reported near the formerly rebel-held town of Tessalit.[130] The next day, three Malian army units gave up trying to lift the siege.[75][131] The United States Air Force air-dropped supplies via a C-130 in support of the besieged Malian soldiers.[132] On 11 March, the MNLA re-took Tessalit and its airport, and the Malian military forces fled towards the border with Algeria.[133]The rebels advanced to about 125 kilometers away from Timbuktu and their advance was unchecked when they entered without fighting in the towns of Diré and Goundam.[134] Ansar Dine stated that it had control of the Mali-Algeria border.[135]

Coup d'état  

On 21 March 2012, soldiers dissatisfied with the course of the conflict attacked Defense Minister Sadio Gassama as he arrived to speak to them. They then stoned the minister's car, forcing him to flee the camp.[136] Later that day, soldiers stormed the presidential palace, forcing Touré into hiding.[137]The next morning, Captain Amadou Sanogo, the chairman of the new National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and State (CNRDR), made a television appearance in which he announced that the junta had suspended Mali's constitution and taken control of the nation.[138] The mutineers cited Touré's alleged poor handling of the insurgency and the lack of equipment for the Malian Army as their reasons for the rebellion.[139] The CNRDR would serve as an interim regime until power could be returned to a new, democratically elected government.[140]
 
The coup was "unanimously condemned" by the international community,[141] including by the United Nations Security Council,[142] the African Union,[142] and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the latter of which announced on 29 March that the CNRDR had 72 hours to relinquish control before landlocked Mali's borders would be closed by its neighbours,[143] its assets would be frozen by the West African Economic and Monetary Union, and individuals in the CNRDR would receive freezes on their assets and travel bans.[144] ECOWAS[145] and the African Union also suspended Mali. The U.S., the World Bank, and the African Development Bank suspended development aid funds in support of ECOWAS and the AU's reactions to the coup.[14][147]
Côte d'Ivoire President Alassane Ouattara, who was the rotational chairman of ECOWAS, said that once the civilian government was restored an ECOWAS stand-by force of 2,000 soldiers could intervene against the rebellion.[148] Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaore was appointed as a mediator by ECOWAS to resolve the crisis.[144] An agreement was reached between the junta and ECOWAS negotiators on 6 April, in which both Sanogo and Touré would resign, sanctions would be lifted, the mutineers would be granted amnesty, and power would pass to National Assembly of Mali Speaker Diouncounda Traoré.[149] Following Traoré's inauguration, he pledged to "wage a total and relentless war" on the Tuareg rebels unless they released their control of northern Malian cities.[150]

Continued offensive

During the uncertainty following the coup, the rebels launched an offensive with the aim of capturing several towns and army camps abandoned by the Malian army.[151] Though the offensive ostensibly included both the MNLA and Ansar Dine, according to Jeremy Keenan of the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies, Ansar Dine's military contribution was slight: "What seems to happen is that when they move into a town, the MNLA take out the military base – not that there's much resistance – and Iyad [ag Aghaly] goes into town and puts up his flag and starts bossing everyone around about Sharia law."[152]
 
On 30 March 2012, the rebels seized control of Kidal, the capital of Kidal Region,[153] as well as Ansongo and Bourem in Gao Region.[154] On 31 March, Gao fell to the rebels, and both MNLA and Ansar Dine flags appeared in the city.[106] The following day, rebels attacked Timbuktu, the last major government-controlled city in the north; they captured it with little fighting.[155] The speed and ease with which the rebels took control of the north was attributed in large part to the confusion created in the army's coup, leading Reuters to describe it as "a spectacular own-goal".[156]On 6 April 2012, stating that it had secured all of its desired territory, the MNLA declared independence from Mali. However, the declaration was rejected as invalid by the African Union and the European Union.[157]

Islamist–nationalist conflict (June–November 2012)

After the withdrawal of Malian government forces from the region, former co-belligerents Ansar Dine, MOJWA, and the MNLA soon found themselves in conflict with each other as well as the populace. On 5 April 2012, Islamists, possibly from AQIM or MOJWA, entered the Algerian consulate in Gao and took hostages.[158] The MNLA succeeded in negotiating their release without violence, and one MNLA commander said that the movement had decided to disarm other armed groups.[159] On 8 April, a mostly Arab militia calling itself the National Liberation Front of Azawad (FNLA) announced its intention to oppose Tuareg rule, battle the MNLA, and "return to peace and economic activity"; the group claimed to consist of 500 fighters.[160]
 
The MNLA clashed with protesters in Gao on 14 May, reportedly injuring four and killing one.[161] On 6 June, residents of Kidal protested against the imposition of Sharia in the town and in support of MNLA, protests which were violently dispersed by Ansar Dine members. By the night of 8 June, MNLA and Ansar Dine rebels clashed against each other in the city with automatic weapons, with two dying in the skirmish.[162]In early June, Nigerien president Mahamadou Issoufou stated that Afghan and Pakistani jihadists were training Azawadi Islamist rebels.[163].[112]
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