by DAVID AXE
On Friday, Jan. 11, Islamic militants occupying northern Mali in West Africa advanced on a key town separating the government-controlled south from the northern part of the country, held by rebels since Spring 2012. France, Mali’s former colonizer, deployed air and ground forces alongside Malian forces to stop the advance, sparking wider fighting aimed at resolving the year-old conflict. Now the U.S. and European and other West African countries are joining the battle. What follows is a timeline for what the French call “Operation Serval,” updated as more information comes in.
March 22, 2012: Malian Pres. Amadou Toumani Toure is ousted in a coup in the capital of Bamako.
April 2012: Taking advantage of the chaos in the capital, an alliance of northern rebels, including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, captures half the country, including the ancient city of Timbuktu and the administrative center of Gao. The line of demarcation settles around the central town of Kona.
Summer 2012: Islamists in northern Mali impose sharia law, destroy ancient shrines they deem heretical.
June 24, 2012: A U.S. drone strikes terror targets in northern Mali, according to one rumor.
Late 2012: Malian refugees total 150,000.
September 2012: France prepositions Gazelle attack helicopters in Burkina Faso.
Oct. 22, 2012: Paris say it is deploying surveillance drones to Mali.
Dec. 5, 2012: U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous promises intervention … eventually. “Nothing could be done before September, October,” he says. “It won’t be a peace operation. It will be a war operation and that poses difficulties to the U.N.’s way of thinking.”
Jan. 11, 2013: A column of up to 900 rebels in 200 vehicles advances on Kona. French helicopters — possibly including Gazelles, Tigers and Pumas — attack the column, forcing it to retreat. One French chopper pilot dies from small arms fire. French Mirage 2000D, Mirage F-1CR and Rafale jets from Chad and northern France, supported by KC-135 tankers, bomb Gao and other Islamist strongholds. Up to 100 rebels die. French C-160 and chartered An-124 transports airlift ground troops, vehicles and equipment into Bamako, as other French forces arrive by road from Cote d’Ivoire.
Jan. 12, 2013: “The real question is, now what?” says Army Gen. Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Africa Command.
Jan. 14, 2013: Rebels forces counterattack, seizing the town of Diabaly. Defense chiefs from Senegal, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Guinea accelerate plans for a regional intervention force. “I can tell you that in one week, the troops will effectively be on the ground,” mission head Aboudou Toure Cheaka says. Germany and the U.K. pledge logistical support, including German C-160 and British C-17 cargo planes.
Jan. 15, 2013: Paris announces it will triple the intervention force from 800 to 2,500. French ground forces, including armored vehicles, advance towards rebel territory. “We have one objective: To make sure when we leave, when we end this intervention, there is security in Mali, legitimate leaders, an electoral process and the terrorists no longer threaten its territory,” French Pres. Francois Hollande says. Belgium offers support troops and C-130 transport planes. Canada deploys a C-17 airlifter. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says the Pentagon will “provide whatever assistance it can.”
Jan. 16, 2013: Apparently in retaliation for the Mali campaign, Islamists kill two and kidnap up to a dozen foreign oil workers, including Americans, in Algeria. French ground forces advance on Diabaly.
Jan. 17, 2013: Malian troops have exchanged fire with rebel forces in Kona. Government soldiers deployed to Banamba, 90 miles from the capital, following reports of Islamists nearby. Algerian forces liberated the hostages at the oil facility in Algeria, but some of the captives reportedly died in the fighting. The U.S. Air Force announced it would help transport French troops to Mali.
Jan. 21, 2013: The French navy assault ship Dixmude is en route to West Africa carrying 2,000 tons of vehicles, cargo and hundreds of soldiers.
Jan. 22, 2013: French and Malian forces recapture Diabaly and Douentza. The U.S. airlifts supplies to Bamako aboard C-17s. Chadian and Nigerian troops mass on the Mali border, preparing to intervene on behalf of Bamako.
- France: 4x Rafale, 5x KC-135FR, 1x A310, 1x C-130, 3x C-160, 3x Mirage 2000D, 1x CN235 at N’Djamena, Chad; plus 2x Mirage F1CR, 8x Gazelle, 3x Mirage 2000D, 4x Super Puma, 3x Tiger at Bamako, Mali; 2x Harfang drones at Niamey, Niger; and 5x Atlantique II at Dakar, Senegal
- Nigeria: 2x Alpha Jet, C-130, Mi-35s
- Italy: C-130s and 1x KC-767
- U.K.: 2x C-17, 1x Sentinel
- C-17s: Canada (1) and the U.S. (5)
- C-130s and other medium transports from Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Spain, The Netherlands and the UAE
- Charters: An-124, Il-76, An-225
Jan. 27, 2013: Timbuktu and Gao, two of the biggest northern cities, are liberated by French and Malian troops. The U.S. begins aerial refueling of coalition planes.
Jan. 28, 2013: The U.S. admits plans to establish a new drone base in northwest Africa near Mali.
Jan. 29, 2013: The French Foreign Legion has parachuted into northern Mali. The U.K. pledges 330 support troops.
Jan. 30, 2013: French troops enter Kidal, the last urban stronghold of the Malian rebels. “Residents were reported on Tuesday to be hunting down people suspected of being fighters who had not fled,” The New York Times reports.
Feb. 1, 2013: Amnesty International is investigating a French air strike that allegedly killed five civilians, as French president Hollande plans a visit to Mali. 2,500 French troops are in Mali and another 1,200 in neighboring countries. The death toll is uncertain, but Wikipedia has compiled the most accurate military casualty reports from the fighting beginning in January:
- France: 1x KIA
- Mali: 11-36x KIA, ~60x WIA, 12x captured
- Rebels: hundreds KIA
Feb. 4, 2013: Two Belgian medical evacuation helicopters have joined the French contingent.
Feb. 5, 2013: According to The New York Times, secular Tuareg rebels in northern Mali say they have captured two commanders from the more militant Islamic wing of the Malian rebellion. If true, the report indicates that the French-led military operation has succeeded in splintering the northern rebels. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian says “several hundred” Islamists have been killed and the French pull-out could begin in March.
Feb. 8, 2013: Tuareg fighters, formerly rebels, have retaken the town of Menaka from French-led troops. It appears the Tuaregs are now cooperating with the French — and have promised to share intel with Paris on any top rebels they have captured. The Malian army, too, has captured some rebel leaders. French commandos seize Tessalit airfield in northern Mali. As a Harfang drone watches, waves of reinforcements arrive: a C-160 carrying regular troops, then an armored column including Caesar artillery.
Feb. 9, 2013: “A suicide bomber has blown himself up in Mali, the West African country’s first such attack and a sign that the Al Qaeda-linked fighters are shifting towards guerrilla tactics,” Al Jazeera reports. “The attacker rode a motorcycle on Friday up to an army checkpoint in Gao, the largest town in the north, and detonated an explosive belt, wounding one soldier, an officer said.” Reprisal killings have begun, with Malian troops targeting ethnic groups suspected of supporting militants.
Feb. 10, 2013: Militant insurgents attack Malian soldiers in Gao. French helicopters respond.
Feb. 11, 2013: U.S. Pres. Barack Obama approves $50 million to support French and Chadian operations in Mali.
Mar. 31, 2013: The battle against Islamic militants is not over yet and the situation in northern Mali remains tense: “Timbuktu clashes between Mali army and Islamists“, BBC News, 31.03.2013.