Chad's military announced March 2 that its forces in Mali killed Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the renegade AQIM commander who apparently ordered January's attack on an Algerian gas plant where at least 37 hostages were killed. The statement on Chadian national TV said Belmokhtar was among several militants killed when its forces destroyed a "terrorist base" in the Adrar de Ifhogas mountains. One day earlier, Chad's President Idriss Deby said his forces had killed another al-Qaeda commander, Adelhamid Abou Zeid, in an operation in the same area near the Algerian border. Belmokhtar and Abu Zeid, both Algerians, were said to have been rival AQIM commanders in Mali. (Reuters, BBC News, March 2)
President Obama announced Feb. 22 that about 100 US troops have been mobilized to Niger to help set up a new base for supposedly unarmed Predator drones to conduct surveillance in the region. The new drone base is to be located for now in the capital, Niamey. The only permanent US base in Africa is in Djibouti, but Niamey may now constitute a second. (NYT, Feb. 22) Also Feb. 22, Chad announced that 13 of its soldiers and 65 Islamist rebels were killed in a fierce battle in the mountain region of Adrar des Ifoghas, on Mali's border with Algeria. In other fighting that day, at Tessalit, on the edge of the mountains, two vehicles carrying civilians and members of the MNLA Tuareg rebel group exploded, killing three and wounding several others. (VOA, Feb. 22) A second car bomb attack in Khalil, on the Algerian border, left five MNLA fighters dead. (Reuters, France24, Feb. 22)
For days we have been wondering about the fate of Kidal, the last town in northern Mali that remains under rebel control. Unless you are paying close attention, you would not know that the rebels in Kidal are not jihadists—they are secular Tuareg separatists of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), who took the town from the local jihadist faction, Ansar Dine, at the same time that combined French and Malian forces were driving the jihadists from Timbuktu and Gao last month. French-led forces reportedly captured Kidal's airport last week but have held back on entering the town itself—an implicit acknowledgement of the sensitive situation, a desire to avoid opening a new insurgency with the MNLA but also to stop short of allowing them a zone of control. Now the French military says it is 1,800 soldiers from Chad that have entered Kidal. An astute choice.
Senegal's newly-created Extraordinary African Chambers officially opened on Feb. 8 to prepare for the prosecution of former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre (BBC backgrounder). Senegal's national assembly adopted a law in December allowing for the creation of the special tribunal with the support of the African Union (AU) and financial assistance from the European Union and the US. The Extraordinary African Chambers will operate within the existing Senegalese court structure in Dakar and will have sections to handle investigations, trials and appeals. Habre is accused of administering thousands of political killings during his eight-year rule from 1982 to 1990. Seven victims filed a criminal complaint against him in January 2000, and a Senegalese court indicted him. However, the case was dismissed on appeal for a lack of jurisdiction. Habre's trial will not begin until the prosecution completes its investigation, which will open next week and is expected to last 15 months.
French and Malian troops are reported to have entered the key central Malian towns of Diabaly and Doutenza, routing the jihadist forces that had taken power there. "The goal is the total reconquest of Mali," said French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. "We will not leave any pockets" of resistance. US Air Force C-17 transport planes have completed five flights from bases in France into Bamako, delivering 80 troops and more than 120 tons of their equipment, according to Pentagon press secretary George Little. It could take the Pentagon two weeks to transport the entire 600-member French mechanized infantry unit and all of their gear, according to Pentagon officials. Michael Battle, US ambassador to the African Union, emphasized: "Our support of French operations in Mali does not involve what is traditionally referred to as boots on the ground... We don't have any plans to put [boots] on the ground at this time in support of French operations."
Amid sketchy and conflicting reports of how much territory the jihadists have gained in their southern thrust and to what extent last week's French air-strikes have halted it, BBC News tells us Jan. 16 that French ground forces are now engaged in the battle for the town of Diabaly, just 220 miles north of Mali's capital, Bamako. A convoy of 50 armored vehicles left Bamako overnight for Diabaly, seemingly a joint force of French and Malian troops. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said: "Today, the ground forces are being deployed. Until now, we had made sure there were a few ground forces in Bamako to keep our people safe... Now French ground forces are heading up north."
Rebels in the Central African Republic Dec. 23 seized the key city of Bambari—the country's third largest—as part of their new offensive. The rebels—known as the Seleka coalition—have seized several towns north of the capital in recent weeks, charging that President Francois Bozize has failed to uphold a 2007 peace deal. The Libreville Comprehensive Peace Agreement, signed with former rebel groups, called for the release of prisoners and compensation to ex-combatants. The renewed insurgents also oppose plans by Bozize to alter the constitution to seek a third term, according to a statement signed by Seleka secretary general Justin Mambissi Matar.