Reports from several towns in Northern Mali all say the same thing: Islamist fighters were not “routed” by the French invasion as previous reportedly but rather made a very orderly withdrawal from the cities, suggesting the forces remain largely intact in the rugged northern desert.
Islamist fighters had controlled more than two-thirds of the nation when France invaded, and while they seem to have willingly ceded the cities and towns they have not disbanded, and are switching to more straightforward insurgent tactics, with IED use growing markedly.
French officials have been eager to talk up town occupations as proof that the war is in its “final phase,” but how much damage they have done to the various Islamist forces is still unclear, and Tuareg secessionists are a growing concern as well.
The Tuaregs, ousted from Northern Mali by the Islamists, have retaken at least two cities in the northeast recently, and while they have discussed peace talks with the French, they are unwilling to drop their demands for autonomy, leading the French-backed junta to conclude that they are going to be another “enemy force” to contend with in the long run.
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