Mali: US support fight against al-Qaeda with arms supplies

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The government of Mali has welcomed a military support, and a proposed supply of martial artillery from the United States to enable Mali government forces combat the growing al-Qaeda presence in the country. The military support is estimated to cost the U.S. around $5 million. Algeria and Libya have already shown their support to combat al-Qaeda in Mali.

“We applaud the fact that the government of Mali has taken a firm stance and wants to be as effective as possible in combating the problem [growing concern over the actions of al-Qaeda]. The military equipment is intended to ensure that Mali can protect its own borders,” Gillian Milovanovic , US ambassador to Mali, is quoted by reporters.

Mali’s President Amadou Toumani Toure declared a total war against the al-Qaeda group. Mr. Toure recruited members of the nomadic Tuareg people, a group of former insurgents, to battle the Islamists. Observers say that the $5 million from the US and talk of co-operation with other countries in the region may mean that the battle against al-Qaeda in Mali is about to become intense.

On 17 June 2009, Mali’s security forces captured a suspected al-Qaeda base in the Sahara desert near the Algerian border, a week after senior Malian intelligence officer who was investigating the group was shot dead in Timbuktu, it was reported. On September 24, it was reported that U.S. foreign commandos in helicopters attacked a car in southern Somalia and killed one of the region’s most wanted militants, witnesses and a Somali government source said.

Reports claim that the al-Qaeda group in Mali allegedly led by Abdel Moussab Abdelwadoud migrated there from the Mediterranean coast of Algeria where they had killed dozens of people during 2007 and 2008 suicide attacks and car bombings. In 2009, there have been fewer attacks in Algeria as the Islamic group – thought to be made up of a few hundred militiamen – has moved to Mali. Al-Qaeda in Mali has since claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks in the region. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is believed to operate in the Sahara desert between Algeria, Mali and Niger. The group grew out of Algerian Islamist groups which have been battling the government for almost two decades. They have claimed responsibility in the killing of a US citizen in Mauritania and a British hostage in Mali.

According to a profile report on al-Qaeda in Algeria, in the 1990s, against a backdrop of Islamist political groups testing their strength across North Africa, the military-backed authorities in Algeria permitted the Islamists to play a full part in the nation’s political life. But when the Islamic Salvation Front was at the verge of sweeping the board in a 1992 general election, they annulled the whole process and took power back. The political ferment immediately moved into violence. Armed Islamists mounted attacks across Algeria; the security forces fought back. In 2007, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) aligned itself with Osama Bin Laden’s international network, reports claimed. The group has since moved to Mali, one of the world’s poorest nations.

Since independence from France in 1960, Mali has suffered droughts, rebellions, a coup and 23 years of military dictatorship. The country has had a civilian government since since 1992, when its first democratically-elected president took power. The country is self-sufficient in food due to the fertile Niger River basin in the south and east. Mali is one of the continent’s biggest cotton producers. Along with other African exporters, it has lobbied against subsidies to cotton farmers in richer countries, particularly the US.

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