France drives Islamist terrorists out of Timbuktu, signal slowdown of operations

posted at 12:31 pm on January 29, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

Residents of Timbuktu celebrated today as French troops liberated the fabled city from the grip of Islamist terrorists and Touareg rebels, ending ten months of control by the uprising. With this victory in hand, France is now signaling that they will reduce their offensive operations in Mali:

The rapid advance to Timbuktu, a day after French and African troops took firm control of the former rebel stronghold of Gao, may spell the beginning of the end of France’s major involvement in the conflict here.

The French defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, was a little more cautious than the mayor in his assessment of the situation in Timbuktu on Monday evening, saying on television station TF1: “French and Malian forces are liberating the city. It’s not completely finished, but it’s well on its way.”

The French president, François Hollande, suggested on Monday that French troops might soon stop their northward advance, leaving it to African soldiers to pursue the militants into their redoubts in the desert north. “We are winning this battle,” Mr. Hollande said in televised remarks. “When I say, ‘We,’ this is the Malian army, this is the Africans, supported by the French.”

He continued, “Now, the Africans can take over.”

Or perhaps more Western efforts will take their place.  The US will be increasing its drone presence significantly with a new base in North Africa soon, perhaps in nearby Niger.  That will boost intelligence gathering in the Sahel, where Islamists had a nearly year-long run of success, and could also serve as a base for offensive operations against the same networks operating in Mali and other nations:

The U.S. military is planning a new drone base in Africa that would expand its surveillance of al-Qaeda fighters and other militants in northern Mali, a development that would escalate American involvement in a fast-spreading conflict.

Two Obama administration officials said military planners are eyeing the West African country of Niger as a base for unarmed Predator drones, which would greatly boost U.S. spy missions in the region.

The escalation comes rather soon after Barack Obama declared an “end to war” in his inaugural speech last week.  This looks like an expansion of the same war the US has been fighting since 9/11.  Instead of fighting them with troops on the ground, we’ll be fighting with drones in the air.  That may be an improvement, depending on your view of drone warfare, but it’s still a war.

The UK will also step up its operations in North Africa, including troops on the ground in Mali as France pulls back, although not in combat roles per se:

Britain is prepared to take the risk of sending a “sizeable amount” of troops to Mali and neighbouring West African countries as David Cameron offers strong support to France in its operation to drive Islamist militants from its former colony. …

Britain is prepared to provide hundreds of troops to help the operation and is considering a few options:

• Forming part of an EU military training mission in Mali. The British contribution to this would be in the “tens”, according to Downing Street.

• Training troops from the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) in neighbouring countries for possible operations on Mali. This is likely to be the main focus of Britain’s contribution because Ecowas members include many countries with strong links to Britain. British troops could be used to train Nigerian forces.

• Providing “force protection” for the trainers. This would be armed protection but would not amount to a combat role.

Looks like the West is getting serious about the Sahel, a situation they largely created by decapitating the Qaddafi regime without any plan to secure Libya and avoid the inevitable power vacuum that allowed these terrorist networks to spread and take control.


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C’mon, Ed. Fess up. You just reported on this because you wanted to use the word Timbuktu.

John the Libertarian on January 29, 2013 at 12:38 PM

Does this mean it’s time for Gen. Lead-From-Behind to make a surprise visit to Timbuktu and declare how wonderful his leadership is?

I’m guessing it’s time for us to relieve the French so we can put America’s best out there under straitjacket RoE to serve as targets for terrorists to practice their sniping skills. After all, it’s massively unfair to the enemies of America to be disadvantaged by a superior fighting force.

Four more years. God help us all because we’re too stupid to help ourselves.

platypus on January 29, 2013 at 12:40 PM

John the Libertarian on January 29, 2013 at 12:38 PM

Tim …. buk …. toooooooooooooo.

Ed Morrissey on January 29, 2013 at 12:42 PM

He continued, “Now, the Africans can take over.”

One of my sons was in Mali a few months before Kaddafi fell. Mali’s air force consists of an elderly plane of in-determinant origin and a second plane for parts.

The entire country was bankrolled by Kaddafi. His picture was all over everywhere including in the hotels because he had paid for all of it. It was a foregone conclusion that things would go horribly wrong there once he was ousted.

The people of that country don’t even know where their next meal is coming from never mind have the wherewithal to fight off terrorists.

Lily on January 29, 2013 at 12:42 PM

It’s a desolate place, amazing poverty. And still Islam radicals must beat it back to the 7th century from it’s current 9th Century status.

The wonders……….of the religion of Peace.

PappyD61 on January 29, 2013 at 12:59 PM

He continued, “Now, the Africans can take over.”

Too late, they already did. Right here…

Archivarix on January 29, 2013 at 1:00 PM

OT/BlackHawks over Brickell, & hovering over Houston

What the hell, Ed?

Axe on January 29, 2013 at 1:11 PM

OT/BlackHawks over Brickell, & hovering over Houston

What the hell, Ed?

Axe on January 29, 2013 at 1:11 PM

Click my Nic, second story on the front page… Tells you what that is all about.

SWalker on January 29, 2013 at 1:17 PM

Click my Nic, second story on the front page… Tells you what that is all about.

SWalker on January 29, 2013 at 1:17 PM

I don’t actually freak out, my friend; but I’m well and totally freaked out this moment.

Axe on January 29, 2013 at 1:19 PM

The French had better watch their collective backs. They are likely to be targeted. Lots of soft targets in Paris.

iurockhead on January 29, 2013 at 1:23 PM

Your comment about other western allies pitching in seems to be on track. Canadian Special Forces are reported to already be on the scene…though it is not clear what they are up to.

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/canadian-special-forces-ground-mali-sources-002257507.html

Blaise on January 29, 2013 at 1:24 PM

SWalker on January 29, 2013 at 1:17 PM

I don’t actually freak out, my friend; but I’m well and totally freaked out this moment.

Axe on January 29, 2013 at 1:19 PM

Well, in that case you better not read the first article on that page… o_O

SWalker on January 29, 2013 at 1:24 PM

a situation they largely created by decapitating the Qaddafi regime without any plan to secure Libya and avoid the inevitable power vacuum

Yes, don’t you hate it when our allies and us decide to change a regime without a plan to secure the country and avoid the inevitable power vacuum? What I hate about blaming the Libyan intervention for what’s going on in Mali is, as in Iraq, we don’t have the counterfactual. Like Iraq, it wasn’t the status quo versus intervention, but a dynamic situation we could either ignore or guide. The counterfactual in Libya probably looks a lot like Syria, and if you’re telling me that we’re better off two failed states on the Mediterranean for Al Qaeda to play in, I don’t know what to tell you. Libya might have a power vacuum, but that’s better than outright civil war and anarchy. The worst we can say about Obama on Libya is that he didn’t learn from Bush’s mistakes….

calbear on January 29, 2013 at 1:36 PM

The escalation comes rather soon after Barack Obama declared an “end to war” in his inaugural speech last week. This looks like an expansion of the same war the US has been fighting since 9/11.

Give that man another peace prize!

Gatsu on January 29, 2013 at 2:21 PM

France drives Islamist terrorists out of Timbuktu, signal slowdown of operations

Why would France (or us, or Great Britain) help Al-Qaeda in Libya, but attack the ones in Mali?

Were they not the “right kind” of Al-Qaeda terrorists or something?

Dr. ZhivBlago on January 29, 2013 at 3:57 PM

Looks like the West is getting serious about the Sahel, a situation they largely created by decapitating the Qaddafi regime without any plan to secure Libya and avoid the inevitable power vacuum that allowed these terrorist networks to spread and take control.

That’s obviously the talking point which HotAir has been trying to push but it doesn’t measure up against the facts. The Sahel has long been a refuge for the worst elements and Algeria has more experience fighting salafism than any other country in the world. Yes, Gadaffi’s fall opened up the arms bazaar but that isn’t the reason why there was an offensive in Mali or an attack in Algeria.

lexhamfox on January 29, 2013 at 11:21 PM