Publication: The Military Balance 2014
05 February 2014
The conflict in Mali
The already fragile security situation in Mali rapidly deteriorated in January 2013. A coup in early 2012 had toppled the government, the north of the country had effectively been lost to Tuareg and Islamist rebels, and though there had been pledges of international military assistance in the form of an Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) contingent and an EU training mission, the deployments had yet to take place.
On 10 January, more than 1,000 Islamists captured the central town of Konna. Two mobile columns of rebel forces moved towards regional capitals Mopti and Ségou, opening the route to the south – and the capital, Bamako. Resistance from Malian troops gave interim President Dioncounda Traoré time to request assistance from former colonial power, France. Acting under Article 51 of the UN charter, France’s President François Hollande ordered immediate military intervention. (See Survival: Global Politics and Strategy, April–May 2013.)
Under Opération Serval, French special forces helicopters stationed in Burkina Faso attacked rebel forces at Mopti and an air base at Sevaré, and bombing missions were conducted by Chad-based Mirage 2000Ds, while light armour drove to Bamako within less than 24 hours from France’s Opération Licorne in Côte d’Ivoire. Ostensibly supporting Malian troops, the mobility, firepower and training of the French (and the Chadian forces deployed in many cases alongside them) were invaluable in stopping the advance of the Islamists, and in forcing their retreat to the northeastern mountains, where numerous bases and weapons stores were found.