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Northern Mali conflict

northern mali conflict, the northern mali conflict

  • The Tuareg rebellion began driving government forces out of Northern Mali in January 201259
  • Malian president Amadou Toumani Touré is ousted in a coup d'état led by Amadou Sanogo60
  • Northern Mali completely captured by rebels by April 2012, "Independent State of Azawad" declared by the MNLA61 and briefly supported by Ansar Dine62
  • Islamist groups Ansar Dine, AQIM63 and MOJWA seize Northern Mali from MNLA and impose sharia law in the region
  • France and some African states intervene and help the Malian Army to re-take most of Northern Mali
  • Peace deal between the government and Tuareg rebels signed on 18 June 201364
  • Peace deal ended after Malian soldiers opened fire on unarmed protesters6566
  • Ceasefire signed on 20 February 2015 between Malian government and the Coordination of Azawad Movements67
  • Mali's leaders have rejected autonomy, but are willing to consider devolved local powers
  • Low-level fighting continues

Government of Mali

  • Military of Mali


full list

 South Africa13

Supported by:

full list

Non-state combatants:

  • Ganda Iso
    Songhai secular militia
  • National Liberation Front of Azawad
  • National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad
  • Islamic Movement of Azawad
  • Al-Mourabitoun 2013–17
  • Jama'at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin 2017–present
  • Ansar al-Sharia 2012–present
  • Ansar Dine 2012–1754
  • AQIM 2012–17
  • Boko Haram 2012–present55
  • Macina Liberation Front 2015–1756
  • MOJWA 2011–135758
Commanders and leaders

Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta since September 2013
Dioncounda Traoré April 2012–September 2013
Amadou Sanogo March–April 2012
Amadou Toumani Touré until March 2012
Sadio Gassama until March
El Haji Ag Gamou until March
Emmanuel Macron
François Hollande
Pierre de Villiers
Édouard Guillaud
Colonel Thierry Burkhard
Brigade General Gregory de Saint-Quentin
Shehu Usman Abdulkadir
Yaye Garba
Mahamat Déby Itno
Abdel Aziz Hassane Adam  
Omar Bikomb

full list Mohamed Lamine Ould Sidatt NLFA
Housseine Khoulam NLFA51 Mahmoud Ag Aghaly
Bilal Ag Acherif
Moussa Ag Acharatoumane
Mohamed Ag Najem68
Algabass Ag Intalla MIA53 Mokhtar Belmokhtar
Abdelhamid Abou Zeid 6970
Abdelmalek Droukdel71
Abou Haq Younousse 
Ahmed al-Tilemsi 58
Iyad Ag Ghaly72
Omar Ould Hamaha 73 Strength

pre-war: ~12,15075
3,000 76
1000 201716
250 201780
Total: 23,564+

545 EUTM19

full list ~500 FLNA51 3,0008586


  • Boko Haram: 10055
  • Ansar Dine: 30086
Casualties and losses

164+ killed,89
400 captured90
1,000–1,500+ killed, captured or deserted by April 201285

85 killed, 197+ wounded,9192 12 captured93 January 2013
38 killed,94 74 wounded9596979899
16 killed100
2 killed, several wounded101
1 killed, 1 wounded102
28 killed103
4 killed104105
4 killed106
3 killed107108
1 killed109
3 killed, 1 wounded110111111
2 killed, 2 wounded112
1 killed 113
1 killed, 4 wounded114
1 killed109
1 killed115

2 killed109

6–65 killed
Conflict with Malian Army116117118

26–123 killed
Conflict with Islamists119120121122

60 captured120122

17–19 killed 2013

115 killed
Conflict with Tuaregs119120121122

625 killed
French intervention Displaced:
~144,000 refugees abroad10
~230,000 internally displaced persons10
Total: ≈374,000123

The Northern Mali Conflict, Mali Civil War, or Mali War refers to armed conflicts that started from January 2012 between the northern and southern parts of Mali in Africa On 16 January 2012, several insurgent groups began fighting a campaign against the Malian government for independence or greater autonomy for northern Mali, an area known as Azawad The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad MNLA, an organization fighting to make Azawad an independent homeland for the Tuareg people, had taken control of the region by April 2012

On 22 March 2012, President Amadou Toumani Touré was ousted in a coup d'état over his handling of the crisis, a month before a presidential election was to have taken place124 Mutinous soldiers, calling themselves the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and State CNRDR, took control and suspended the constitution of Mali125 As a consequence of the instability following the coup, Mali's three largest northern cities—Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu—were overrun by the rebels126 on three consecutive days127 On 5 April 2012, after the capture of Douentza, the MNLA said that it had accomplished its goals and called off its offensive The following day, it proclaimed Azawad's independence from Mali128

The MNLA were initially backed by the Islamist group Ansar Dine After the Malian military was driven from Azawad, Ansar Dine and a number of smaller Islamist groups began imposing strict Sharia law The MNLA and Islamists struggled to reconcile their conflicting visions for an intended new state129 Afterwards, the MNLA began fighting against Ansar Dine and other Islamist groups, including Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa MOJWA/MUJAO, a splinter group of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb By 17 July 2012, the MNLA had lost control of most of northern Mali's cities to the Islamists130

The government of Mali asked for foreign military help to re-take the north On 11 January 2013, the French military began operations against the Islamists87 Forces from other African Union states were deployed shortly after By 8 February, the Islamist-held territory had been re-taken by the Malian military, with help from the international coalition Tuareg separatists have continued to fight the Islamists as well, although the MNLA has also been accused of carrying out attacks against the Malian military131

A peace deal between the government and Tuareg rebels was signed on 18 June 201364 but on 26 September 2013 the rebels pulled out of the peace agreement and claimed that the government had not respected its commitments to the truce132 Fighting is still ongoing even though French forces are scheduled for withdrawal133 A ceasefire agreement was signed on February 19, 2015 in Algiers, Algeria but sporadic terrorist attacks still occur134


  • 1 Background
  • 2 Tuareg rebellion January–April 2012
    • 21 Coup d'état
    • 22 Continued offensive
  • 3 Islamist–nationalist conflict June–November 2012
    • 31 Battle of Gao and aftermath
    • 32 Takeover of Douentza and Ménaka
  • 4 Foreign intervention January 2013
    • 41 MNLA realigns with the Malian Government
    • 42 Battle of Konna and French intervention
    • 43 In Aménas hostage crisis
    • 44 Malian northward advance
    • 45 Guerrilla phase
      • 451 Reported deaths of Abdelhamid Abou Zeid and Mokhtar Belmokhtar
    • 46 UN Peacekeeping Force
    • 47 Chadian withdrawal
    • 48 Peace deal
  • 5 End of ceasefire and renewal of conflict September 2013-
    • 51 January 2014
    • 52 February 2014
  • 6 Casualties
    • 61 2012
    • 62 2013
    • 63 2014
    • 64 2015
    • 65 2016
    • 66 2017
  • 7 Human rights concerns
    • 71 Claims against Separatists and Islamists
    • 72 Claims against Islamists
      • 721 Destruction of ancient monuments in Timbuktu
    • 73 Claims against the Malian Army and Loyalists
  • 8 Popular culture
  • 9 Ceasefire
  • 10 References
  • 11 Further reading
  • 12 External links


Further information: History of Mali

In the early 1990s Tuareg and Arab nomads formed the Mouvement Populaire de l’Azaouad/Azawad People's Movement MPA and declared war for independence of Azawad135 Despite peace agreements with the government of Mali in 1991 and 1995 a growing dissatisfaction among the former Tuareg fighters, who had been integrated into the Military of Mali, led to new fighting in 2007136 Despite historically having difficulty maintaining alliances between secular and Islamist factions the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad allied itself with the Islamist groups Ansar Dine and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and began the 2012 Northern Mali conflict135

The MNLA was an offshoot of a political movement known as the National Movement for Azawad MNA prior to the insurgency137 After the end of the Libyan Civil War, an influx of weaponry led to the arming of the Tuareg in their demand for independence for the Azawad138 The strength of this uprising and the use of heavy weapons, which were not present in the previous conflicts, were said to have "surprised" Malian officials and observers139

Though dominated by Tuaregs, the MNLA stated that they represented other ethnic groups as well,140 and were reportedly joined by some Arab leaders137 The MNLA's leader Bilal Ag Acherif said that the onus was on Mali to either give the Saharan peoples their self-determination or they would take it themselves141

Another Tuareg-dominated group, the Islamist Ansar Dine Defenders of Faith, initially fought alongside the MNLA against the government Unlike the MNLA, it did not seek independence but rather the imposition of Islamic law Sharia across Mali142 The movement's leader Iyad Ag Ghaly was part of the early 1990s rebellion and has been reported to be linked to an offshoot of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb AQIM that is led by his cousin Hamada Ag Hama143 as well as Algeria's Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité DRS85

Mali was going through several crises at once that favored the rise of the conflict:144

  • State crisis: the establishment of a Tuareg state has been a long-term goal of the MNLA, since it began a rebellion in 1962 Thereafter, Mali has been in a constant struggle to maintain its territory
  • Food crisis: Mali’s economy has an extreme dependence on outside assistance, which has led Economic Community of West African States ECOWAS to blockade, to subdue the military junta145
  • Political crisis: The mutiny led to the fall of the president

Tuareg rebellion January–April 2012edit

Further information: Tuareg rebellion 2012

The first attacks of the rebellion took place in Ménaka, a small town in far eastern Mali, on 16 and 17 January 2012 On 17 January, attacks in Aguelhok and Tessalit were reported The Mali government claimed to have regained control of all three towns the next day146 On 24 January, the rebels retook Aguelhok after the Malian army ran out of ammunition85 The next day the Mali government once again recaptured the city146 Mali launched air and land counter operations to take back the seized territory,147 amid protests in Bamako148 and Kati149 Malian president Amadou Toumani Touré then reorganised his senior commanders for the fight against the rebels150

On 1 February 2012, the MNLA took control of the city of Menaka when the Malian army operated what they called a tactical retreat The violence in the north led to counter protests in the capital city of Bamako Dozens of Malian soldiers were also killed in fighting in Aguelhok148 On 6 February, rebel forces attacked Kidal, a regional capital151

On 4 March 2012, a new round of fighting was reported near the formerly rebel-held town of Tessalit152 The next day, three Malian army units gave up trying to lift the siege85153 The United States Air Force air-dropped supplies via C-130 Hercules aircraft in support of the besieged Malian soldiers154 The C-130’s most likely came from either Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, or Mauritania, both of which are known to have been used by the United States military155 On 11 March, the MNLA re-took Tessalit and its airport, and the Malian military forces fled towards the border with Algeria156

The rebels advanced to about 125 kilometers away from Timbuktu and their advance was unchecked when they entered without fighting in the towns of Diré and Goundam157 Ansar Dine stated that it had control of the Mali-Algeria border158

Coup d'étatedit

Main article: 2012 Malian coup d'état

On 21 March 2012, soldiers dissatisfied with the course of the conflict attacked Defense Minister Sadio Gassama as he arrived to speak to them They then stoned the minister's car, forcing him to flee the camp159 Later that day, soldiers stormed the presidential palace, forcing Touré into hiding160

The next morning, Captain Amadou Sanogo, the chairman of the new National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and State CNRDR, made a television appearance in which he announced that the junta had suspended Mali's constitution and taken control of the nation161 The mutineers cited Touré's alleged poor handling of the insurgency and the lack of equipment for the Malian Army as their reasons for the rebellion162 The CNRDR would serve as an interim regime until power could be returned to a new, democratically elected government163

The coup was "unanimously condemned" by the international community,164 including by the United Nations Security Council,165 the African Union,165 and the Economic Community of West African States ECOWAS, the latter of which announced on 29 March that the CNRDR had 72 hours to relinquish control before landlocked Mali's borders would be closed by its neighbours,166 its assets would be frozen by the West African Economic and Monetary Union, and individuals in the CNRDR would receive freezes on their assets and travel bans167 ECOWAS168 and the African Union also suspended Mali The US, the World Bank, and the African Development Bank suspended development aid funds in support of ECOWAS and the AU's reactions to the coup169170

Côte d'Ivoire President Alassane Ouattara, who was the rotational chairman of ECOWAS, said that once the civilian government was restored an ECOWAS stand-by force of 2,000 soldiers could intervene against the rebellion171 Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaore was appointed as a mediator by ECOWAS to resolve the crisis167 An agreement was reached between the junta and ECOWAS negotiators on 6 April, in which both Sanogo and Touré would resign, sanctions would be lifted, the mutineers would be granted amnesty, and power would pass to National Assembly of Mali Speaker Diouncounda Traoré172 Following Traoré's inauguration, he pledged to "wage a total and relentless war" on the Tuareg rebels unless they released their control of northern Malian cities173

Continued offensiveedit

During the uncertainty following the coup, the rebels launched an offensive with the aim of capturing several towns and army camps abandoned by the Malian army174 Though the offensive ostensibly included both the MNLA and Ansar Dine, according to Jeremy Keenan of the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies, Ansar Dine's military contribution was slight: "What seems to happen is that when they move into a town, the MNLA take out the military base – not that there's much resistance – and Iyad ag Aghaly goes into town and puts up his flag and starts bossing everyone around about Sharia law"175

On 30 March 2012, the rebels seized control of Kidal, the capital of Kidal Region,176 as well as Ansongo and Bourem in Gao Region177 On 31 March, Gao fell to the rebels, and both MNLA and Ansar Dine flags appeared in the city126 The following day, rebels attacked Timbuktu, the last major government-controlled city in the north; they captured it with little fighting178 The speed and ease with which the rebels took control of the north was attributed in large part to the confusion created in the army's coup, leading Reuters to describe it as "a spectacular own-goal"179

On 6 April 2012, stating that it had secured all of its desired territory, the MNLA declared independence from Mali However, the declaration was rejected as invalid by the African Union and the European Union180

Islamist–nationalist conflict June–November 2012edit

Main article: Internal conflict in Azawad

After the withdrawal of Malian government forces from the region, former co-belligerents Ansar Dine, MOJWA, and the MNLA soon found themselves in conflict with each other as well as the populace

On 5 April 2012, Islamists, possibly from AQIM or MOJWA, entered the Algerian consulate in Gao and took hostages181 The MNLA succeeded in negotiating their release without violence, and one MNLA commander said that the movement had decided to disarm other armed groups182 On 8 April, a mostly Arab militia calling itself the National Liberation Front of Azawad FNLA announced its intention to oppose Tuareg rule, battle the MNLA, and "return to peace and economic activity"; the group claimed to consist of 500 fighters183

The MNLA clashed with protesters in Gao on 14 May, reportedly injuring four and killing one184 On 6 June, residents of Kidal protested against the imposition of Sharia in the town and in support of MNLA, protests which were violently dispersed by Ansar Dine members By the night of 8 June, MNLA and Ansar Dine rebels clashed against each other in the city with automatic weapons, with two dying in the skirmish185

In early June, Nigerien president Mahamadou Issoufou stated that Afghan and Pakistani jihadists were training Azawadi Islamist rebels186

Battle of Gao and aftermathedit

Further information: Battle of Gao A Tuareg technical in northern Mali Islamist fighters in northern Mali

Clashes began to escalate between the MNLA and the Islamists after a merger attempt failed,187 despite the signing of a power-sharing treaty188

Protests broke out on 26 June 2012 in the city of Gao, the majority of whose people are not Tuaregs as opposed to the MNLA, but rather sub-Saharan groups such as the Songhay and Fula peoples The protestors opposed the Tuareg rebels and the partition of Mali Two were killed as a result of the protests, allegedly by MNLA troops189 The protesters used both Malian and Islamist flags, and France 24 reported that many locals supported the Islamists as a result of their opposition to the Tuareg nationalists and the secession of Azawad190

On 26 June 2012, the tension came to all-out combat in Gao between the MNLA and MOJWA, with both sides firing heavy weapons MNLA Secretary General Bilal ag Acherif was wounded in the battle191 The MNLA were soon driven from the city,192 and from Kidal and Timbuktu shortly after However, the MNLA stated that it continued to maintain forces and control some rural areas in the region193

As of October 2012, the MNLA retained control of the city of Ménaka, with hundreds of people taking refuge in the city from the rule of the Islamists, and the city of Tinzawatene near the Algerian border194 In the same month, a splinter group broke off from the MNLA; calling itself the Front for the Liberation of the Azawad FPA, the group stated that Tuareg independence was no longer a realistic goal and that they must concentrate on fighting the Islamists195

Takeover of Douentza and Ménakaedit

Islamist fighters in northern Mali

On 1 September 2012, MOJWA took over the southern town of Douentza, which had previously been held by a Songhai secular militia, the Ganda Iso A MOJWA spokesman said that the group had had an agreement with the Ganda Iso, but had decided to occupy the town when the militia appeared to be acting independently, and gained control of the town following a brief standoff with Ganda Iso196 Once MOJWA troops surrounded the city, the militia reportedly surrendered without a fight and were disarmed196197

On 16 November 2012, Tuareg MNLA forces launched an offensive against Gao in an attempt to retake the town However, by the end of the day, the Tuaregs were beaten back by the MOJWA forces after the Islamists laid an ambush for them A Malian security source said that at least a dozen MNLA fighters were killed while the Islamists suffered only one dead An MNLA official stated that their forces killed 13 MOJWA fighters and wounded 17, while they suffered only nine wounded121

On 19 November 2012, MOJWA and AQIM forces took over the eastern town of Ménaka, which had previously been held by the MNLA, with dozens of fighters from both sides and civilians killed On the first day of fighting, the MNLA claimed its forces killed 65 Islamist fighters, while they suffered only one dead and 13 wounded The Islamists for their part stated they killed more than 100 MNLA fighters and captured 20122

Foreign intervention January 2013edit

Main articles: Operation Serval, African-led International Support Mission to Mali, and EUTM Mali Pro-government militia members training in Sevare Pro-government militia members training in Sevare

Following requests from both the Mali government and ECOWAS for foreign military intervention,198 on 12 October 2012 the United Nations Security Council unanimously,199 under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter,200 passed a French resolution approving an African-led force to assist the army of Mali in combating the Islamist militants201 The resolution gave 45 days for "detailed and actionable recommendations"198 for military intervention which would be drafted by ECOWAS and the African Union,199 with a figure of 3,000 proposed troops reported198 A prior ECOWAS plan had been rejected by diplomats as lacking sufficient detail201

While authorising the planning of force, and dedicating UN resources to this planning,199 UN Security Council Resolution 2071 does not authorize the deployment of force198 However, UN Security Council Resolution 2085, passed on 20 December 2012, "authorizes the deployment of an African-led International Support Mission in Mali AFISMA for an initial period of one year"202

On 8 January 2013, rebels were reported by Al Jazeera to have captured 12 Malian government troops near the town of Konna93 On the same day, RFI reports that governmental troops fired warning shots and slightly progressed from Konna toward Douentza203

MNLA realigns with the Malian Governmentedit

By December, the now displaced MNLA began peace talks with the Malian government and relinquished its previous goal of Azawadi independence in favor of a request for self-rule within Mali After the French entry in January 2013, the MNLA spokesman in Paris, Moussa Ag Assarid who had criticized the splinter group FPA months earlier for giving up on independence204 declared that the MNLA was "ready to help" their former opponents in the fight against the Islamists205 At this time, the MNLA controlled no big localities and was only strong in rural and desert areas near the borders with Mauritania, Algeria and Niger, having been driven off from most of its claimed territory by Islamist groups206

After the declaration, the MNLA re-engaged the Islamist forces, and, with the help of one defecting Islamist faction, retook the cities of Tessalit and Kidal the site of earlier pro-MNLA protests against the Islamists185 in late January207208

Battle of Konna and French interventionedit

Further information: Battle of Konna French troops arrived in Bamako

On 10 January 2013, Islamist forces captured the strategic town of Konna, located 600 km from the capital, from the Malian army209 Later, an estimated 1,200 Islamist fighters advanced to within 20 kilometers of Mopti, a nearby Mali military garrison town87

The following day, the French military launched Opération Serval, intervening in the conflict210 According to analysts, the French were forced to act sooner than planned because of the importance of Sévaré military airport, located 60 km south of Konna, for further operations211 The operation included the use of Gazelle helicopters from the Special forces, which stopped an Islamist column advancing to Mopti, and the use of four Mirage 2000-D jets of the Armée de l'Air operating from a base in Chad 12 targets were hit by the Mirages during the night between the 11th and the 12th The French chief of army staff, Édouard Guillaud, announced that the Islamists had withdrawn from Konna and retreated several dozen of kilometres into the north212 The air strikes reportedly destroyed half a dozen Islamist armed pick-up trucks213 and a rebel command center One French pilot, Lieutenant Damien Boiteux, was killed after his attack helicopter was downed by ground fire during the operation214215

During the night of 11 January 2013, the Malian army, backed by French troops, claimed it had regained control of the town of Konna,216 and claimed to have killed over 100 Islamists Afterwards, a Malian lieutenant said that mopping up operations were taking place around Konna211 AFP witnesses had seen dozens of Islamist corpses around Konna, with one saying he counted 46 bodies217218 The French stated four rebel vehicles were hit by their airstrikes,219 while the Malian Army claimed nearly 30 vehicles were bombed Several dozens of Malian soldiers92 and 10 civilians were also killed A resident of Gao, the headquarters of the MOJWA, said that the city's hospital had been overwhelmed with dead and wounded91 In all, one local resident counted 148 bodies around Konna92

French Mirage 2000 refuels over Africa on 2 February 2013

In the wake of the French deployment, ECOWAS said that it had ordered troops to be deployed immediately to Mali, the UN Security Council said that the previously planned UN-led force would be deployed in the near future, and the European Union said it had increased preparations for sending military training troops into Mali220 The MNLA also offered to join the offensive against the Islamists221

On 12 January the British government announced that it was deploying two Royal Air Force C-17 transport planes in a non-combat role to ferry primarily French but also potentially African forces into Mali222

On 13 January, regional security sources announced the death in Konna of Abdel Krim nicknamed "Kojak", a high level leader in the Ansardine group223 French defense minister Le Drian said that new airstrikes were ongoing in Mali, happened during the last night and will happen the next day as well A resident of Léré told that airstrikes had been conducted in the area224 The airstrikes were concentrated on three areas, Konna, Léré and Douentza225 Two helicopters were seen attacking Islamist positions in Gao226 A dozen strikes targeted the city and its outskirts A resident reported that all Islamist bases around Gao had been taken out of operation by the strikes227 An Islamist base in Kidal was targeted by the French air force228 French defence minister Le Drian, announced that four Rafale fighters had participated in the Gao airstrikes They left France and are now based in Chad229

It was reported that following the strikes which destroyed their bases, the MUJAO forces left Gao230 Residents reported that 60 Islamists died in the Gao airstrikes Some other were hiding in the houses and picked the dead bodies during the night231

On 14 January, the Islamists attacked the city of Diabaly 400 km north of Bamako, in the government-held areas They came from the Mauritanian border where they fled to avoid the airstrikes The AQIM leader known as Abu Zeid was leading the operation232 On the same day, Islamists pledged to launch attacks on French soil233 Jihadists took control of Diabaly a few hours after their attacks234

On 15 January, the French defense minister confirmed that the Mali military had still not recaptured Konna from rebel forces, despite earlier claims that they did235 Meanwhile, the Royal Canadian Air Force dispatched a C-17 transport plane to Mali in a similar role as those of the British C-17s236 The Danish Parliament decided to contribute a C-130 transport plane237 and the Belgian government made the decision to send two C-130s along with one Medical Component Agusta A109 Medevac medical evacuation helicopter along with 80 support personnel to Mali238

In Aménas hostage crisisedit

Main article: In Aménas hostage crisis

On 16 January, it was reported that a group of AQIM militants had crossed the border from Mali into Algeria and had captured an Algerian/Statoil/BP-owned natural gas field, In Aménas, near the border with Libya The militants were reported to have killed two foreign nationals and were holding 41 foreign nationals hostage, and a spokesman for the group said that the purpose of the attack was to get revenge on the countries that had intervened in Mali The hostages reportedly included several American, Japanese, British, Romanian, Filipino and Norwegian citizens Algeria was reportedly negotiating with the militants to try and obtain the hostages' release239 On 19 January 11 militants and 7 hostages were killed in a final assault to end the standoff In addition, 16 foreign hostages were freed, including 2 Americans, 2 Germans, and 1 Portuguese240

Malian northward advanceedit

Further information: Battle of Diabaly, Second battle of Gao, 3rd battle of Gao, 4th battle of Gao, Battle of Khalil, Battle of Iminenas, Battle of Tin Keraten, Battle of Timbuktu, 5th Battle of Gao, 2nd Battle of Timbuktu, and Battle of in Arab

On 16 January, French special forces, along with the Malian army, began fighting small and mobile groups of jihadists inside the city of Diabaly,241 but the French defense minister has denied the presence of French troops fighting in Diabaly242

On the same day, the government of Spain approved the dispatch of one transport aircraft to Mali for the purposes of logistical and training support243 Meanwhile, the government of Germany authorized the contribution of two Transall C-160 transport aircraft to ferry African troops into the capital Bamako30 Likewise, the government of Italy pledged air transport-based logistical support35

On 17 January, Banamba was put on alert after Islamists were reportedly spotted near the town The Malian army immediately deployed 100 soldiers to the town, which were reinforced later A convoy of Islamists reportedly left Diabaly and was heading towards Banamba on the same day,244 but no fighting ultimately took place in the town

On 18 January, the Malian Army released a statement claiming to have complete control of Konna again245246 The claim was confirmed by residents of Konna247 as well as a spokesman for Ansar al-Dine The same day, rebels were driven out of Diabaly according to multiple local sources77

Reports came out on 19 January that residents of Gao had lynched Aliou Toure, a prominent Islamist leader and the MOJWA police commissioner of the city, in retaliation for the killing of a local journalist, Kader Toure248 AFP cited local reports saying that the Islamists were beginning to leave other areas under their control to seek refuge in the mountainous and difficult-to-access Kidal Region249 On the same day, two Nigerian soldiers were killed and five were injured by Islamists near the Nigerian town of Okene as they were heading toward Mali250

On 20 January, the United States denied that they had attempted to bill the French for American support in the conflict251 USAF C-17s began to fly in French troops and supplies the next day252

On 21 January French and Malian troops entered Diabaly without resistance253 Douentza was also taken on the same day254

On the evening of 24 January Malian soldiers took control of Hombori255 On the same day a splinter group of Ansar al-Dine, calling itself the Islamic Movement for Azawad MIA, stated that it wanted to seek a peaceful solution to the conflict and urged France and Mali to cease hostilities in the north in order "to create a climate of peace which will pave the way for an inclusive political dialogue"256257

On 26 January, French Special Forces took over the airport and an important bridge in the city of Gao which remained largely Islamist-held The troops reported "harassment" from Islamist forces but no solid resistance to their operations258 The city was taken by a French backed Malian force later that day259

A new split happened in Ansar Dine, with one of its commanders in Léré, Kamou Ag Meinly quitting the group and joining the MNLA260

On 27 January, French and Malian forces encircled Timbuktu and began securing the city261262263 After gaining the airport on 27 January, the next day, Malian and French military sources claimed that the entire area between Gao and Timbuktu was under government control and access to the city was available264265266 The city was fully taken by French and Malian forces by the next day267

On 28 January, the MNLA took control of Kidal with the help of the Islamic Movement of Azawad MIA, an Ansar Dine breakaway group that split after the international intervention The MNLA also took control of the towns of Tessalit and in Khalil Apparently, fighters who deserted the MNLA for the better financed Ansar Dine were now returning to the MNLA Islamists were reported to have fled to the mountains207208

On 29 January, the first non-Malian African troops entered North Mali Nigerien soldiers occupied Ansongo and Chadian troops, Ménaka The more numerous Chadian Army was also reported as moving north from Ménaka in support of the Malian Army268

On 30 January, French reached Kidal airport No Malian soldiers were with them, as a confrontation with Tuaregs was feared The town was reportedly under control of fighters from both the MNLA and MIA The MNLA, however denied any collaboration or even a desire to collaborate with the MIA, and stated that their fighters were maintaining control of the town alongside French forces269 Many leaders of Ansar Dine left Iyad Ag Ghali Delegations from the MNLA and MIA left for Ouagadougou to negotiate with Malian officials270

On 2 February, Chadian troops from MISMA reached Kidal and stationed in a deserted base in the city Their general said that they had no problem with the MNLA and had good relations with them271 On the same day, the French President, François Hollande, joined Mali's interim President, Dioncounda Traoré, in a public appearance in recently recaptured Timbuktu272

On 5 February, according to Chadian news stations, 24 Chadian soldiers were killed and 11 were wounded when they were ambushed by jihadists during a patrol north of Kidal The information was neither denied nor confirmed by Chadian and Malian authorities However, the Chadian government did mention that 11 soldiers were injured in a "traffic accident" north of Kidal273

On 8 February, French and Chadian troops announced that they had occupied Tessalit near the Algerian border, the seat of one of the last airports still not controlled by the Malian government and its allies274

Guerrilla phaseedit

Further information: Battle of Ifoghas, Operation Panther 2013, Battle of Tigharghar, Attack on Kidal 2013, and Battle of Djebok

Islamist and Tuareg forces were reported to have retreated to the Adrar des Ifoghas, rugged badlands in northeastern Mali Knowledge of and control over local sources of water is expected to play a vital role in continuing conflict in that area275 On 19 February, France began a new operation Panther intended to subdue the region276277

Between 8 and 10 February, MUJAO – who had been harassing government forces from the outskirts since Malian and French forces took the city on 26 January – launched the first two suicide attacks of the war in Gao, resulting in the death of the two bombers and injuring a Malian soldier and a civilian Islamist fighters armed with AK-47s then crossed the Niger River on canoes, took over an abandoned police station and deployed snipers in nearby buildings in anticipation of the government forces' counterattack The situation was controlled by pro-government forces after heavy fighting which included an air attack on the police station by French helicopters278

On 19 February, Islamists attacked a French parachute regiment of 150 soldiers supported by a heavy vehicle patrol and Mirage fighter jets One French commando, a sergeant, was killed and so were 20 Islamist militants279

Gao was attacked a second time on 20 February Islamists again crossed the Niger and came close to the city hall, possibly with help from locals The same day, a car bomb exploded in Kidal, killing two people276 The fighting in Gao subsided after five Islamists were killed by Malian soldiers280

On 22 February 2013, 13 Chadian soldiers and 65 Islamists were killed during heavy fighting in the northern mountains281 The same day two suicide bombers crashed their cars into the MNLA's local operations center in the town of in Khalil, killing 5 people including 3 MNLA fighters and both bombers282

U S President Obama announced on 22 February 2013 that about 100 American troops had been sent to Niger, which borders Mali, to aid the French in Mali The most recent U S troops were sent to help set up a new air base, from which to conduct surveillance against Al Qaeda 40 U S Air Force logistics specialists, intelligence analysts and security officers arrived in the capital of Niger on 20 February 2013, bringing the total Americans deployed in Niger to 100283

On 24 February 28 Islamists and ten Chadian soldiers were killed while fighting in the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains in Northern Mali284

French soldiers in Gao, March or April 2013

On 26 February, a car bomb exploded in Kidal targeting a MNLA checkpoint At least 7 MNLA fighters along with the suicide bomber were killed in the attack285

On 20 March, AQIM claimed to have executed a French hostage in Mali, Phillipe Verdon, who had been kidnapped in 2011286

On 23 March, Islamist fighters from MUJAO attacked the city of Gao, causing heavy fighting for two hours The Malian army eventually repulsed this attack287

On 30 March, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives near a Malian army checkpoint in Timbuktu, allowing a group of jihadists to infiltrate by night By 1 April, with the help of a French army detachment supported by war jets, the Malian army pushed the jihadists out of the city center288

On 29 April, a French paratrooper was killed by a roadside bomb in Northern Mali, the sixth French soldier to die in the conflict Two others were seriously injured289

Reported deaths of Abdelhamid Abou Zeid and Mokhtar Belmokhtaredit

On 28 February, Algerian television informed that Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, one of the three top men of AQIM and deemed responsible of several kidnappings of westerners in the Sahel in the 2000s, had been killed in battle against Franco-Chadian forces in the Tigharghar mountains along with about 40 of his followers, some kilometres away from Aguelhok The information was neither confirmed nor denied by the French Army70290291

On 2 March 2013, it was reported that Mokhtar Belmokhtar, mastermind of the In Amenas hostage crisis in which 800 hostages had been taken and 39 Westerners killed at an Algerian oil refinery, had been killed as well292 Chadian state television announced that "Chadian forces in Mali completely destroyed the main jihadist base in the Adrar de Ifhogas mountains killing several terrorists including leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar", according to a BBC report293 BBC correspondent Thomas Fessy said this would be a major blow if confirmed293

On 4 March 2013, Al Qaeda's North African branch confirmed the death of Abou Zeid, but denied that Belmokhtar had been killed6970

UN Peacekeeping Forceedit

Now that the bulk of the conflict is over and the need for extended military involvement is decreasing, France looks to the UN to take over with the peacekeeping force that had been suggested earlier in the conflict once it was a more stable situation294 The operation was termed MINUSMA

Chadian withdrawaledit

On 14 April, Chadian president Idriss Déby Itno announced the full withdrawal of Chadian Forces in Mali FATIM, saying that face-to-face fighting with Islamists is over, and the Chadian army does not have the skills to fight a guerilla-style war This announcement comes days after a suicide bomber killed four Chadian soldiers in Kidal, where 1,800 of its soldiers are currently stationed According to local sources, Chadian forces have already begun to withdraw troops prior to the formal announcement, including a mechanised battalion295

Peace dealedit

A peace deal between the government and Tuareg rebels was signed on 18 June 201364

End of ceasefire and renewal of conflict September 2013-edit

The MNLA ended the ceasefire in September of the same year after government forces opened fire on unarmed protesters Following the attack, MNLA vice-president Mahamadou Djeri Maiga remarked: "What happened is a declaration of war We will deliver this war Wherever we find the Malian army we will launch the assault against them It will be automatic The warnings are over" One of the MNLA's founders, Attaye Ag Mohamed, was also quoted as saying that the "political and military wings of the Azawad" had declared "the lifting of the ceasefire with the central government"6566

January 2014edit

On 25 January, a source within the Malian Security Forces reported that a French military operation in the Tombouctou Region of northern Mali resulted in the deaths of 11 Muslim fighters296

February 2014edit

On 20 February, Germany and France announced the shipment of elements of the Franco-German brigade to Mali to help train Mali troops This is the first deployment of EU troops in Africa as an EU contingent297



2012 fatalities - 133298verification needed


2013 fatalities 9+:

September Timbuktu bombing - 2 civilians and 4 bombers killed299 23 October - civilians and 2 peacekeepers killed300


On January 17, a Chadian MINUSMA peacekeeper was killed in an attack on a French-UN camp in Kidal301 On June 11, a car bomb killed four Chadian peacekeepers in Aguelhok302 On September 18, five Chadian MINUSMA peacekeepers were killed by a land mine The Chadian government described the incident as "discriminatory" and said its soldiers were being used as "shields"303 On October 23, two Chadian peacekeepers were killed in an attack in Tessalit304




On May 5, 2017 a rocket hit a MINUMSA base killing a Liberian soldier and injuring 7 other soldiers, including several Liberians and a Swedish soldier115

June 2017 Bamako attack On June 18, Jama'at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin Islamists attacked a luxury resort in Bamako killing 5 people including one Portuguese soldier,6 attackers were also killed in the shooting and hostage-taking

Human rights concernsedit

Further information: International Criminal Court investigation in Mali

Following several reports of abuse from both sides, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court opened a case investigating war crimes in Mali on 16 January 2013 This case is the quickest any ICC investigation has begun after foreign military intervention305

Claims against Separatists and Islamistsedit

In May 2012, Amnesty International released a report stating that the conflict had created Mali's worst human rights situation since 1960 The organization stated that fighters with the MNLA and Ansar Dine were "running riot" in Mali's north,306 and documented instances of gang rape, extrajudicial executions, and the use of child soldiers by both Tuareg and Islamist groups307

On 3 April 2012, armed groups looted 2,354 tons of food from United Nations' World Food Programme's warehouses in Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu, causing the WFP to suspend its operations in northern Mali308 Other targets of looting included hospitals, hotels, government offices, Oxfam offices and the offices and warehouses of other unnamed aid groups309 The WFP also stated that 200,000 had so far fled the fighting, predicting that the number would rise310

Claims against Islamistsedit

Rebels from Ansar Dine

Ansar el Dine also blocked a humanitarian convoy bringing medical and food aid from reaching Timbuktu on 15 May, objecting to the presence of women in the welcoming committee set up by city residents;311 after negotiations, the convoy was released on the following day312 The group reportedly banned video games, Malian and Western music, bars, and football in Gao311 and ransacked alcohol-serving establishments in both Gao and Kidal142 Islamist forces were also reported to have intervened against looters and ordered women to wear head scarves The CNRDR's spokesman Amadou Konare claimed that "women and girls have been kidnapped and raped by the new occupants who are laying down their own law"127 The anti-slavery organization Temedt claims that ex-slaves were the first targeted for punishment by Islamist forces and that former masters have used the violence to recapture ex-slaves313

On 29 July 2012, a couple was stoned to death by Islamists in Aguelhok for having children outside of marriage An official reported that many people left the town for Algeria following the incident314 On 9 August, Islamist militants chopped off the hand of an alleged thief in the town of Ansongo, despite a crowd pleading with the militants for mercy315

Destruction of ancient monuments in Timbuktuedit

Further information: Islamist destruction of Timbuktu heritage sites

During the conflict, Islamists also damaged or destroyed a number of historical sites on the grounds that they said were idolatrous, particularly in Timbuktu, a UNESCO World Heritage site On 4 May 2012, Ansar Dine members reportedly burned the tomb of a Sufi saint316 In late June, Islamists attacked several more sites in Timbuktu with pickaxes and shovels317

On 28 January 2013, as French-led Malian troops captured the airport of the world heritage town of Timbuktu, the Ahmed Baba Institute, host of priceless ancient manuscripts, was razed by fleeing Islamists318

Claims against the Malian Army and Loyalistsedit

The Tuaregs and Arabs who lived in Bamako and elsewhere in southern Mali were subjects of a rash of ethnic attacks by black Malians as opposed to Mediterranean Arabs and racially mixed Tuaregs, despite many of them being hostile to Azawad separatism as well as the Islamists In fact, a large part of them actually had only recently arrived to the government-held south, fleeing the violence in the north319

An incident arose on 8 September 2012 when a group of Malian soldiers detained 17 unarmed Tablighi preachers from Mauritania in Dogofry, north-east of Diabaly, while en route to a religious conference in Bamako and executed all but one of them without reporting to their own command The Malian government expressed its condolences for the event, which Associated Press considered a symptom of the disintegration of discipline and command in the Malian Army as a result of the 21 March Coup320

On 19 January, Human Rights Watch report killings and other human rights abuses committed by the Malian army in the central Malian town of Niono Tuaregs and Arabs were especially targeted321

On 23 January 2013, BBC reported claims by the International Federation of Human Rights that Malian Army soldiers had carried out summary executions against people suspected of being militant, and with bodies subsequently being hastily buried in makeshift graves and wells Some victims were reportedly killed for not having identity documents or for their ethnicity Reportedly, dozens of ethnic Tuaregs living in Bamako had their homes raided by government troops322

Popular cultureedit

Mali earned the first win in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations football championship on 20 January 2013 with a 1–0 win over Niger After scoring the only goal, Seydou Keita displayed a T-shirt with a peace sign on it323 A number of musicians from Mali came together to record the song Mali-ko meaning peace and release a video Voices United for Mali-'Mali-ko'324 in early 2013 about the ongoing conflict in the country The collaboration includes many well-known Malian musicians, including Oumou Sangaré, Vieux Farka Touré, and Amadou & Mariam325


A ceasefire was agreed upon on 20 February 2015 between the Malian government and the northern rebels The terms of the truce state that both sides agreed to, as the AFP news agency put it, "tackle the causes of lasting tensions in the region"326

"Mali's leaders have rejected autonomy, but are willing to consider devolved local powers"327


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Further readingedit

  • Alexis Arieff, "Crisis in Mali," Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, January 14, 2013
  • Possibilities and Challenges for Transitional Justice In Mali ICTJ

External linksedit

  • Orphans of the Sahara, a three-part documentary series about the Tuareg people of the Sahara desert
  • Operation ‘Serval’: A Strategic Analysis of the French Intervention in Mali, 2013–2014 Sergei Boeke & Bart Schuurman, Journal of Strategic Studies 2015
  • Mali portal
  • War portal
  • 2010s portal

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