Entries in Mali (14)


French President Will Receive New Camel to Replace One Eaten

PHILIPPE WOJAZER/AFP/Getty Images(TIMBUKTU, Mali) -- The president of France will soon get a “bigger and better-looking” camel after an apparent misunderstanding led to a West African family eating a camel that was originally given to him as a gift.

Authorities in Mali say they will send the replacement camel to France for safe keeping after the faux pas was discovered last week. The family of farmers in northern Mali, whom President Francois Hollande asked to care for his young camel, slaughtered the animal to make stew.

Malian officials presented Hollande with the baby camel when he visited the country in February.  It was a thank you gift for France’s military intervention to help the Malian army fight back Islamist radicals who had seized more than half of the country.

As the media filmed the presentation of the camel, the animal brayed obnoxiously while Hollande joked, “I will use it as often as I can for transportation.”

But instead of flying the camel back to France, Hollande reportedly decided to send the camel to a farmer whose property had been damaged by French tanks.  It is not clear whether the camel was re-gifted by Hollande or if the family had been asked only to raise the animal on behalf of the president.  It is also unknown what exactly Hollande will do with the new desert animal when it arrives in rainy France.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


French and Malian Troops Enter Timbuktu

ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images(TIMBUKTU, Mali) -- The coalition effort to drive Islamist militants out of the North African country of Mali was highlighted Monday by French and Malian troops entering the ancient city of Timbuktu.

While there were reports that the al Qaeda-linked fighters had fled the city, it was unclear whether joint forces had gained full control of Timbuktu, which had been in rebel hands for most of last year.

French defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Monday evening that "French and Malian forces are liberating the city.  It’s not completely finished, but it’s well on its way."

Tragically, the militants allegedly destroyed mausoleums and manuscripts that date back to the 15th century.

Still, most Malians in Timbuktu were said to have been overjoyed with the arrival of government and French soldiers.

In other developments, secular Tuareg rebels, who are allied with the Malian government, claimed to have taken over the northern city of Kidal after Islamist fighters had abandoned it.

The French, who have many nationals living in Mali, began their offensive against the militants earlier this month when the Islamists began moving from their strongholds in the north to the capital of Bamako.

The U.S. and other nations have been providing the French with logistical support to prevent the spread of al Qaeda in the region.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


US and Italy Boosting Support of French and Malian Forces

ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images(BAMAKO, Mali) -- In an effort to keep Mali from becoming a haven for terrorists, allies of France are stepping up efforts to assist French forces in turning back al Qaeda-linked militants in that North African country.

The U.S. began sending C-17 transport planes to Mali on Monday with French soldiers and supplies, and continued the flights on Tuesday.  The flights are expected to continue indefinitely.

Meanwhile, Italy's government has approved deploying up to two dozen instructors to help train Malian forces in their battle with Islamist fighters, who have captured much of the country.

Italy also pledged logistical support to the French with cargo planes expected to bring more supplies to Mali.

These developments come on top of Britain and Canada already deploying their own military transport planes.

Meanwhile, the first troops from West Africa nations are expected to arrive in Mali soon with Nigeria preparing to deploy soldiers there.  As many as 3,000 troops from various countries could assist Malian and French forces.

At the United Nations Tuesday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told member nations, "Working with African and international partners, we must do our part to help fully restore Mali's constitutional order and territorial integrity."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Six Hundred More French Troops Arrive in Mali

ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images(BAMAKO, Mali) -- With air strikes having done little to stop the advance of Islamist rebels, France's military will increasingly engage the fighters on the ground in the North African nation of Mali, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian acknowledged on Thursday.

The rebels, who have ties to al Qaeda, have seized much of Mali in spite of attacks on them by French military jets.

As a result, French ground troops have been boosted from 800 to 1,400, and while there's fighting already occurring, Le Drian was hesitant to discuss where the battles were taking place in Mali.

Last week, it was reported that a few dozen French special ops forces embedded themselves with Mali government troops in an effort to stop the rebels.

The escalation of troops by France is a sign of how serious the situation has become while Mali officials anxiously await reinforcements from West African nations that have pledged to deploy thousands of soldiers.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


French Ground Troops Now Fighting Mali Rebels

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(BAMAKO, Mali) -- French ground soldiers are now engaging in direct combat with Islamist militants in the North African country of Mali.

With al Qaeda-based rebels threatening to take over the country, France has deployed ground troops to fight them in addition to launching air strikes.

A spokesman for the French operation said that armored vehicles were sent from Mali's capital of Bamako to recapture the town of Diabaly.

Although Mali has not been a French colony since 1960, there are still many nationals living in the African nation.

Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said from Paris that French forces were traveling north in Mali to take the fight directly to the Islamists in their own strongholds.

As the U.S. weighs the kind of logistical assistance it can offer the French in Mali, West African defense chiefs meeting in Bamako are discussing what types of troop support West African states can provide the Mali government.

It's believed that as many as 3,000 soldiers could be deployed, but because of the poor economies of certain governments, their presence might be limited to only three months in Mali.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


France Ready to Send More Troops to Mali

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(PARIS) -- Facing Islamist fighters determined to overrun the country, the French government is on the verge of deploying more troops to the North African country of Mali.

The militants have already taken large swaths of northern Mali and seem poised to enter the capital city of Bamako but French airstrikes are preventing that from happening for now.

France currently has a force of about 1,700 in Mali, with 800 actual soldiers on the ground.  The goal is to bolster Mali government troops while waiting for thousands of soldiers from West Africa.

While stressing that his country has no plans to remain in Mali permanently, French President Francois Hollande is ordering the deployment of more troops to keep the Islamists at bay while awaiting the African peacekeeping force.

The U.S., which has had a counterterrorism operation going on in Mali for several years, says it will continue providing France with intelligence findings from spy planes and drones.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


US Pledges Help to France Against Al Qaeda Rebels in Mali

ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Monday pledged to aid France's widening aerial assault on al Qaeda-linked rebels in Northern Mali, as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the U.S. would provide the French with intelligence and airlift support and the State Department said it would send civilian contractors to the region as early as this week to train an African-led military force.

"I commend France for taking the steps it has," Panetta told reporters. "We have promised that we'll work with them and cooperate with them."

Panetta said he did not want to "go into all the particulars" about the nature of U.S. assistance, "but it suffices to say that it's basically in three areas....One is, provide limited logistical support; two, provide intelligence support; and three, provide some airlift capabilities."

France began military action Friday at Mali's request after the radical Islamist rebels began a rapid advance south. By Sunday, French jets had bombed training camps in militant areas and hundreds of French forces were involved.

Panetta said the rebels' push south had added urgency to the situation.

"It was clear to France and all of us that that could not be allowed to continue, and that is the reason France has engaged, and it is the reason we are providing cooperation," Panetta said.

State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said Monday the Obama administration has agreed to help coordinate and train an African-led force, which will be structured under the West African regional organization known as ECOWAS. The force will receive a mandate by the United Nations, similar to the African peacekeeping force in Somalia, AMISOM. The United States has historically been the primary funder of AMISOM, but Nuland said it is too early to determine whether the same will be true for the force going to fight in Mali.

"It was France who was requested to help by the Malians," said Nuland. "They had the assets to do it. They were willing to do it. They are asking us to help them in a number of ways that we are now reviewing."

Said Nuland, "We have traditionally had relationships of burden - sharing when we embark on global security operations. It speaks to the strength of our allies and our ability to share burden around the world with them."

For months U.S. officials have been involved in discussions with leaders from France, Mali, and neighboring West African countries about the best way to proceed militarily against the Islamist extremist groups who seized the northern half of the country last April. The jihadists are accused of human rights abuses such as enlisting child soldiers and stoning to death women accused of adultery as they enforce a strict interpretation of Sharia law.

The top U.S. military commander for Africa, General Carter Ham, recently said there is evidence that extremists from other African countries have traveled to Mali to train with the al-Qaeda affiliate that has moved into the country.

Intervention by a U.N.-backed ECOWAS force wasn't expected to come for several more months, but late last week the rebels pushed further south to capture another key city. On Friday, France surprised many by immediately sending warplanes to push the rebels back and is continuing to go after rebel targets in northern and central Mali.

While France has greater political and economic ties to its former colony, the United States has long shared concerns about terrorists finding safe haven in the country's desolate northern region. The U.S. military has been involved in counterterrorism operations in Mali since 2002. In the past decade, Mali has been among several West African countries that received training from the U.S. military intended to improve security in the region by strengthening the nations' ability to defend against jihadists and rebel groups. The U.S. is also involved in intelligence gathering, with the frequent use of surveillance drones to keep an eye on extremist groups.

Panetta told reporters he could not say how long the fight against the Islamist rebel groups in Mali would take, but analysts expect it could become a long, difficult battle against the rebels, who are well-armed with the weapons that flooded into Mali after the fall of neighboring Libya last year.

"It will likely last for quite some time," said African analyst Mark Schroeder of the U.S.-based global security analysis firm Stratfor. "The rebels in northern Mali have been embedded among the local population there and know where to hide in the mountains."

"This is home for the jihadists in northern Mali, and they are going to fight for it," said Schroeder.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


French Troops Killed in Failed Commando Missions in Somalia and Mali

Hemera/Thinkstock(PARIS) -- The French Defense Ministry has confirmed the deaths of two French military service members in two military operations launched in Africa over the past 24 hours. One mission was a secret hostage rescue in Somalia, and the other was a very public mission to quash Islamist rebels in northern Mali.

Early Saturday, French commandos launched an unsuccessful raid in Somalia to rescue a French intelligence agent held by al Shabab since 2009. The French Defense Ministry say a hostage was killed in the raid, as was one of the commandos. Al Shabab says they’ve taken a commando hostage and that the original hostage remains alive.  Locals say the commandos flew in on five helicopters to the town of Bulomarer deep in southwestern Somalia. The Ministry says 17 Shabab fighters were killed in the firefight that followed.

Meanwhile in Mali, a French military helicopter pilot was killed during an aerial attack on a rebel command center in northern Mali. Hundreds of French troops were sent to Mali on Friday at the invitation of Mali’s president as rebel forces launched a new offensive out of their haven in northern Mali. "The threat is a terrorist state at the doorstep of France and Europe," French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a briefing on Saturday.  

The U.S. will decide soon on a French request to provide unarmed surveillance drones to help their forces in Mali. They’ve also requested mid-air refueling tankers to assist a French fighter aircraft. Friday morning ECOWAS member nations authorized the immediate deployment of military forces to Mali. There has been talk in the past that if this was to happen that the U.S. might provide cargo planes to move troops and equipment from these neighbor countries into Mali.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Hillary Clinton Urging Algeria to Back Military Intervention in Mali

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(NAIROBI, Kenya) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Algeria Monday, pressing officials in the North African country to do more to fight terrorism and support military intervention in neighboring Mali.

Islamist extremists have seized control of northern Mali where they are accused of numerous human rights abuses as they enforce strict Sharia law.  They are also working with an al Qaeda affiliate that originated in Algeria -- the same affiliate Clinton says is responsible for the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. 

Concerned about the spread of al Qaeda into Mali, the U.S. has said it would be willing to provide logistical support if an African-led force is sent to reconquer the north.  Algeria has been opposed to military intervention, concerned it would destabilize the border region in its country. 

A State Department spokesman said on Monday that Algeria is warming up to the idea of military intervention in Mali and that support from Algeria is critical in the fight against al Qaeda in the region.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Al Qaeda Destroys Timbuktu Shrines, Ancient City’s Spirit

STR/AFP/GettyImages(NEW YORK) -- World scholars and historians have reacted in horror to the news of an al Qaeda sect destroying 15th century shrines in the ancient Malian city of Timbuktu, calling the move an attack on humanity and a possible war crime.

The centuries-old mosques and tombs, which were placed on the world heritage danger list by the United Nations cultural agency, UNESCO, were struck down in West Africa by members of  the al Qaeda-allied Islamist group Ansar Dine this weekend. The group took control of northern Mali three months ago and now says the relics represent idol worship, a violation of Islam.

A spokesman for Ansar Dine, which translates to Defenders of Faith, told reporters that the group plans to “destroy every mausoleum in the city. All of them, without exception.” He said the group is acting in the name of God.

But for the people of Timbuktu, the al Qaeda affiliate’s actions have been anything but holy. Villagers were reportedly distraught about the militants’ tearing down the sacred sites.

“They came with pickaxes, they cried, ‘Allah’ and broke the door,” a former tour guide for the once-popular tourist destination told Agence France-Press. “It is very serious. Some of the people watching began crying.”

The militant Islamists destroyed at least seven relics, including the Sidi Yahya, considered one of Timbuktu’s three great mosques. The mosque was built around 1400 and is part of the city’s storied history as one of the centers of Islam in Africa during the 15th and 16th centuries, earning Timbuktu the nickname of the  “City of 333 Saints,” according to UNESCO.

Condemnation of Ansar Dine’s actions has been swift and widespread.  “The United States strongly condemns the destruction of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Timbuktu by Islamist militants, including Ansar al-Dine,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said today.

The United States is calling on “all parties to protect Mali’s cultural heritage,” she added.

In a op-ed, UNESCO chief  Irina Bokova called the destruction “an attack against humanity,” and said the stakes of preserving these sites from falling to religious extremists is about more than just “mud and wood” structures.

“The attack on Timbuktu’s cultural heritage is an attack against this history and the values it carries,” she writes. “Values of tolerance, exchange and living together, which lie at the heart of Islam. It is an attack against the physical evidence that peace and dialogue is possible.”

What’s more, Ansar Dine’s actions could constitute a war crime, the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court told Agence France-Press.

As for Ansar Dine’s claim that the sites are un-Islamic, a spokesman for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation issued a statement calling their actions the work of “bigoted extremist elements.”

The organization, which is made up of nearly 60 Muslim countries, condemned the destruction, saying the “sites were part of the rich Islamic heritage of Mali and should not be allowed to be destroyed and put in harm’s way.”

This isn’t the first time militant extremists have destroyed beloved global artifacts. In 2001 the Taliban blew up ancient Buddhist shrines in the Bamiyan Valley in Afghanistan, also a world heritage site. The brazen act, which happened before the 9/11 attacks, put the world on notice about how extreme Taliban rule had become.

Mali had been considered one of the most stable democracies in West Africa, until a coup last year. The city of Timbuktu was its crown jewel, a symbol of Mali’s rich history and a tourism draw for a desperately poor nation.

Now the fabled city has turned into a casualty of an on-going war between the Malian government, rebels from the Tuareg tribe in northern Mali and Islamic militants, with no end in sight.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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