Operation Serval – a busy week for the French
04 February 2013
Anthony Tucker-Jones reports on French military operations that recently liberated northern Mali
Blink and you will have missed the latest developments in Mali. It has certainly been a very busy week for the French armed forces as they dramatically leap-frogged across the country in a series of well-executed military operations.
France has a long history of intervening in African conflicts and it is something that its mobile forces have become highly proficient at.
The French pulled out all the stops deploying their air force, air mobile and ground forces to put to flight the Islamist rebels who, until the end of January, controlled all of northern Mali's major towns.
French led columns of armoured cars and armoured personnel carriers, spearheaded by tough special forces, foreign legion and paratroops, roared north along Mali's dusty roads as the Islamist rebels beat a hasty retreat.
Having taken the decision to intervene in early January, France quickly airlifted in its air mobile forces supported by jet fighters and attack helicopters, while amphibious assault ships deployed with the heavier equipment from Toulon naval base to Dakar, Senegal.
Allied Chadian troops also deployed via Goron in Niger in a column of heavily armed armoured cars and armoured personnel carriers.
The ill-trained rag-tag Malian Army with its variety of uniforms and weaponry including Serbian M70 and Chinese Type 56 assault rifles, certainly needed help. Its flying columns consisted largely of 'technicals' or pick-up trucks with heavy machine guns.
Nonetheless, in the face of French and West African military muscle the Islamist fighters fled Diabaly on 18 January. Three days later French marines and paratroops supporting the Malian Army secured the town. Douentza was also recaptured west of Gao.
Under the cover of continuing air strikes the French made sure that they did not lose momentum. On 26 January French special forces and Chadian troops retook Gao and heavy transport aircraft flew in Malian troops.
Konna was also liberated that day. It was soon apparent that that the town had suffered some heavy French air strikes that had blasted rebel armoured cars and 'technicals'.
The raids also forced the rebels to abandon a Grad rocket launcher and a tracked anti-aircraft gun. The local barracks showed clear evidence of a hasty retreat.
The following day French forces rolled into Sévaré to a warm welcome by the inhabitants, while French jets struck vehicles belonging to the Movement for the Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) at Gao.
A dramatic French air drop on 29 January saw French paratroops and heavy earth moving equipment deployed to secure and repair the runway at newly liberated Timbuktu.
French special forces plus Chadian and Nigerian troops then entered the northern city of Gao on 31 January ending 10 months of Islamist rule.
The Islamist rebels were driven from their last stronghold once the French had secured Kidal.
Fighting seems to have been minimal during operation Serval – the rebels had little that could withstand French air attack and heavily armed armoured cars such as the ERC 90 and AMX-10.
It remains to be seen if the Islamist forces will regroup and wage a guerrilla war against France and her allies in Mali. Having won the war can the French keep the peace?
Revenge attacks in Mali and even France now seem inevitable. However, the rebels seem to be in disarray with the Tuareg Islamic Movement for Azawad having split from key Islamist rebel group Ansar al-Dine.
Following this French led victory there is also the thorny issue of human rights abuses by the Malian Army in Mopti and Sévaré following reports of summary executions.