Mali troops redeploy towards rebel strongholdMon, 02 Oct 2023 18:07:32 GMT

The Malian army began redeploying troops on Monday towards the northern rebel stronghold Kidal, security officials said, amid a resumption of hostilities in that region.The troop movements have triggered speculation about the start of an offensive in the Kidal region.It would come at a time when the Malian army is under threat in the north, between Gao and Timbuktu, by a resumption of hostilities from predominantly Tuareg armed groups and an increase in jihadist attacks.No Malian official has officially said the troops, which were deployed on Monday, are headed for the town of Kidal.But army information services chief Colonel Souleymane Dembele declared that in the long term, Kidal — which has for years been governed by the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), an alliance of predominantly armed groups Tuareg who have recently resumed combat against the army — had to come back under state control.”The Malian army will be everywhere MINUSMA was,” he told journalists in the capital Bamako, referring to the UN mission, which is in the process of leaving Mali.The army convoy set off on Monday morning from the northern city of Gao, which lies 300 kilometres (185 miles) southwest of Kidal, a military official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.He said there would be a “rearrangement of our system in the north”.Another convoy left on Sunday from Bourem, further north, also on the road to Kidal, he added.The column “is initially heading towards Anefis to reinforce our positions. We are not going directly to Kidal”, an officer based in Gao told AFP.Anefis is located in the Kidal region, about a hundred kilometres south of the city. Road travel in Mali can be long and dangerous.Kidal is a crossroads region in the north that is not under the control of the Malian state but of the CMA coalition.Since the end of August, the north of Mali has seen a resumption of hostilities by the CMA, as well as an intensification of jihadist attacks against the army.The fact Kidal is still controlled by the ex-rebels continues to pose a sovereignty issue and remains a source of irritation for Mali’s ruling junta.Junta leaders have made re-establishing state control across the whole country one of their main messages. – Junta chief’s pledge -Kidal lies more than 1,500 kilometres from the capital Bamako and hundreds of kilometres from the cities of Gao and Timbuktu.It is a crucial stopover between Mali and Algeria.When an insurrection broke out in 2012, the region was one of the first in Mali to fall into the hands of the rebels, both separatists and Salafists.It was taken over by the CMA in 2013 following military intervention by France, and has remained in their hands despite a 2014 attempt by the Malian army to regain control.In 2015, the rebels signed the so-called Algiers peace agreement with pro-government armed groups and the state. The agreement is now considered defunct following the resumption of hostilities in August.The 2012 insurrection paved the way for armed groups linked to Al-Qaeda to conquer most of the north, triggering France’s intervention and plunging the Sahel into war that has left thousands dead.The Al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadist alliance Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM) now operates over large swathes of  the north and centre of Mali as well as on the outskirts of the capital Bamako. In the northeast, groups affiliated to the Islamic State organisation have extended their hold over almost all of the Menaka region.The jihadist insurgency that erupted in northern Mali in 2012 spread to Niger and Burkina Faso in 2015. Following back-to-back coups in 2020 and 2021, the Malian junta pushed out France’s anti-jihadist force in 2022.Northern Mali has seen a series of attacks on the army in recent weeks which coincides with the ongoing withdrawal of the UN stabilisation force MINUSMA.MINUSMA has been handing over its camps to Malian authorities, but the separatists claim they should be returned to their control.The UN mission has still to vacate its camp at Kidal and two other sites further north by the end of December.Mali’s junta chief Colonel Assimi Goita, speaking on the anniversary of the West African nation’s 1960 independence from France last month, pledged to retake control of the country from jihadist groups and rebels.