Coalition could get mired in Mali conflict

Last Updated: Sun, Feb 24, 2013 09:50 hrs

Paris, Feb 24 (IANS) A spate of sudden raids and suicide attacks launched by Malian rebels have highlighted the risk of the Mali Army and its allies becoming mired in a guerrilla war, reports Xinhua.

France sent in troops Jan 11 to help the weak Malian army fight the rebel groups which captured the north of the country in April 2012 after a military coup and continued to push southward to threaten the Bamako-based transition government which is recognized by the international community.

Since then, thousands of soldiers from African countries have also been deployed to Mali to aid the government troops.

During the initial offensive, the French-led coalition forces met little resistance and drove the rebels from the main northern cities of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu.

But now the battle is becoming increasingly tough and unpredictable as the rebels stepped up their counter-offensives and adopted guerrilla-style tactics that include suicide bombings and armed raids.

On Friday, five people, including two suicide bombers, died in car bombings in northern Mali.

The blasts came one day after a suicide car bomb attack near a camp stationed by French and Chadian troops in the city of Kidal.

The Al Qaeda-linked Movement for Oneness and Jehad in West Africa (MUJAO), one of the three main rebel groups in Mali, claimed responsibility for the two attacks.

MUJAO, alongside Al Qaeda's branch in North Africa AQIM and Ansar Dine, occupied Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal in the aftermath of a military coup March 22, 2012.

Also Friday, Chadian troops met strong resistance in a clash with rebel fighters in northern Mali in which 13 Chadian soldiers were killed, the heaviest casualties sustained by the coalition troops.

Meanwhile, bitter fighting erupted between the French-backed troops and 40 militants who infiltrated Gao erupted Wednesday night.

French newspaper Le Figaro said that some militants killed in Gao were found wearing explosives belts.

Even worse, the violence in Mali, with no signs of abating, is spiralling out of borders and triggering what France termed "repercussions".

The abduction of seven members of a French family in Cameroon was widely believed to be a revenge kidnapping and was blamed on Nigerian Islamists.

On Saturday, the MUJAO vowed to launch more suicide attacks in Mali's capital Bamako as well as in the capitals of Burkina Faso and Niger, whose troops are part of the African force in Mali.

In addition, the continuing violence and the rebels' tactic shift bode ill for France, which planned to pull out its troops next month to hand over leadership of the operation to troops from neighboring African nations.

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