Instead, the MNLA leadership insisted that once they had Azawad under control, they would turn their attention to dealing with the Ansar Dine, a promise evidenced by subsequent armed clashes between MNLA and Ansar Dine forces in the past several weeks.
Yet, despite having an estimated 3,000 fighters to Ansar Dine’s 300, the prospect of the MNLA effectively winning control over Azawad is looking rather murky, evidenced by the fact that Ansar Dine forces continue to control the major regional cities of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu, while MNLA forces are relegated to the surrounding countryside.
The failure of the MNLA to exercise control over Ansar Dine has been due in part to the military and financial resources provided to Ansar Dine by its al-Qaeda allies, as well as to the MNLA’s inflated military skills garnered as mercenaries for former Libyan dictator Muammar Gadhafi.
As one Western analyst said, when the Tuareg were in Libya “most of the guys hadn’t been fighting. They were just sitting around in barracks… When it comes to the people actually fighting, the cold-blooded killers, the ones trained to kill, they are from Ansar Dine.”
Those lethal Ansar Dine attributes have now been on full display as the Islamists consolidate their presence in the northern Mali areas under their control, often with the help of their al-Qaeda allies and the recently arrived foreign jihadists.
In Timbuktu and Gao, the Ansar Dine Islamists have vigorously imposed Sharia law, separating boys and girls in school, flogging those who drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes, outlawing soccer and television, forcing women to wear full, face-covering veils, and banning music from the radio.
Not surprisingly, Christians have fared little better in their encounters with the Ansar Dine, with reports that churches in the towns of Gao and Timbuktu have been destroyed and Christians subjected to “massacres and rape of women.”
While Ansar Dine is focusing its efforts in remaking Azawad into an Islamist state, its al-Qaeda allies are using the time to recruit a new generation of jihadists to their ranks, a recruitment campaign which includes distributing money and goods to poor Mali citizens.
Those goodwill efforts have been finding fertile ground among a Mali populace greatly impoverished by a long lasting drought that has caused a severe food crisis in the country, a disaster which has led to the exodus of 172,000 Malians to neighboring countries.
Yet, the Malian central government is in no position to restore order to the north, as troops loyal to Mali’s former government and those who seized power in the March 22 coup have continued to fight in the streets of the Mali capital of Bamako.
The Mali government’s impotence in reasserting its control over northern Mali hasn’t escaped the attention of neighboring countries, as both the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union have called on the UN Security Council to support regional powers in a possible military intervention in Mali.
For its part, the UN Security Council has delayed acting on that request, inaction which has caused officials and diplomats in the region to warn that time may be running out, warnings best expressed by Maman Sidikou, Niger ambassador to Washington, who recently said, “Each day, radical Islam is consolidating its power and control in the area,” adding, “The time to kill the snake is before it has babies.”
Unfortunately, the growing influx of foreign jihadists into northern Mali indicates the Islamist snake has already given birth to a slew of terrorist hatchlings.
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