French intervention in Mali

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Jan 15 2013 22:10
French intervention in Mali

So, the French "liberators" are in Mali. Thoughts, useful article links and news of political responses welcome.

I appreciate these international current affairs threads appear to piss some people off. All I can suggest is that they ignore this thread. Personally I find them useful. Particularly when looking at Western military interventions into former colonies.

Reuters: France to stay in Mali until stability restored

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Jan 15 2013 22:28

So Hollande may have been seeking Gulf arab support in the UAE today, but Qatar, who have in the past been alleged to have been supporting Al Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), are sounding less than keen. This from le Parisien:

Quote:
9:10 p.m.. Qatar skeptical about the use of force. Doha doubts on the efficiency of the French military intervention against Islamist groups in Mali, considering that the use of force would not solve the problem and calling for dialogue. Malian question should be "discussed between neighboring countries, the African Union and the Security Council" of the UN, said Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem Al-Thani. He stressed that his country, which has supported the uprisings in several Arab countries over the past two years, is ready to help mediate for a settlement.
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Jan 15 2013 23:30

FT: Concern rises over France’s Mali mission

Quote:
[...]
But the US has appeared slow in its response to French requests for military help, reflecting considerable unease in Washington at what some officials say is the ill-defined nature of the military operation. According to some US officials, French troops could be left waiting for weeks or months inside Mali before a planned international force made up of troops from African states arrives. As of Tuesday no African troops had arrived, although Nigeria promised some would arrive this week.

According to Peter Pham, director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council, a US think-tank: “The US does not want to tell an ally to stand down, but by starting an operation they might not be able to finish, the French risk exacerbating the crisis.”
[...]
“If you ask me whether the French can hold Mopti and retake Diabaly, then there is no doubt they can,” said the British official. “But as they sit there waiting for African forces to turn up, there is a real risk that the French could be vulnerable to hit-and- run attacks from the jihadists.”
Regional experts say the number of rebels opposing the French – largely made up of fighters linked to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Mali Tuaregs – is far larger than some western governments realise.

“In total, there are 10,000 to 12,000 men [in the rebel ranks],” Mathieu Guidère, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Toulouse, said. “Out of that, there’s a solid core of 3,000 to 4,000 trained fighters.”

Prof Guidère said these groups have used financial resources from kidnapping and drug smuggling to buy weapons they can use against aircraft, “like surface-to-air missiles”. One sign of the rebels’ retaliatory capability came soon after the start of France’s intervention, when a French pilot was killed as his helicopter took heavy small arms fire.

Other experts also question whether the French aerial bombing campaign might be stretched. This is because French jet fighters have to fly into central Mali from N’Djamena in Chad, some 2,100km from their targets.

“French air power is not overwhelming, though it may increase over time,” says Brigadier Ben Barry of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “In any events, jihadists will certainly be able to adapt to evade being targeted, hiding among populated areas.”

The Islamist rebels will certainly face pressures, as they are operating far from their bases in the north of Mali.

“These guys are at the end of a very long logistical tether,” says Francois Heisbourg, adviser to the Foundation for Strategic Research, a Paris-based think-tank. “A typical column of 200 4x4s is a bit like an infantry-cum-armoured brigade from the second world war. They need ammunition and fuel – gasoline is a big issue for them. They will find it difficult to retreat in good order.”

However, the biggest challenge facing the French is how long they will have to wait for troops from Mali’s African neighbours to come into the country and add to pressure on the Islamist rebels.

Senegal, Niger, Burkina Faso and Guinea are among the African countries that have committed to each send up to 500 troops. However, as of Tuesday, none had yet arrived in Mali.

Nigeria, which is expected to lead the regional force, said on Tuesday it hoped to have 900 troops on the ground within a week, 300 more than were originally promised.

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Jan 16 2013 09:14

"All those of you who care and appreciate an African intellectual legacy, an Islamic legacy, an academic legacy and a spiritual legacy help save the endangered manuscripts of Timbuktu. There are 700,000 manuscripts in Timbuktu and surroundings that are on the verge of being lost if the appropriate action is not taken. These manuscripts represent a turning point in the history of Africa and its people. The translation and publication of the manuscripts of Timbuktu will restore self-respect, pride, honor and dignity to the people of Africa and those descended from Africa; it will also obliterate the stereo-typical images of Tarzan and primitive savages as true representation of Africa and its civilization…The manuscripts of Timbuktu are a living testimony of the highly advanced and refined civilization in Sub-Sahara Africa. Before the European Renaissance, Timbuktu flourished as the greatest academic and commercial center in Africa. Great empires such as Ghana, Mali, and Songhai were proofs of the talents, creativity and ingenuity of the African people. The University of Timbuktu produced both Black African scholars and leaders of the highest rank, character and nobility." Timbuktu Educational Foundation based in California in the United States. All those of you who are peace loving not warmongers must help to end the war in Mali. The world community must unite against the imperialist’s (France) aggression! AU and ECOWAS must stop this act of unilateralism! Philani Lubanyana@South Africa

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Jan 16 2013 17:55

The following is one, somewhat biased, take on the participants on the Islamist side. NB that the initial seizure of Northern Mali (aka Azawad) was a joint venture by the secular-ish Tuareg NLM, the MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) and Ansar Dine (Ansar ~= partisans; Dine = faith). But the two then fell out and the latter, with the aid of AQIM (Al Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb) and MUJAO (Movement for Unity [tawhid] and Jihad in West Africa) managed to drive MNLA out of Gao and Tibuktoo and eventuially liquidate the latter as a military body. The remnants are across the border in Mauritania, but no longer have any significant force. The most salient political difference between MNLA and the Islamists being that the former were happy with the Azawad territory, whereas the latter, internationalist world revolutionists by ideology, want to transform the whole of Mali into a Salafist Islamic republic (presumably as a staging post in creating a Kalifate across the Niger valley/Sahel as a whole, en route to world domination).

The present snap offensive by the Islamists seems to have proceeded in a classic one-two. A feint in the East, down the main road to Konna, accompanied in the East by a deep strike, blindsiding through the South-Eastern corner of Mauritania (hence all the reports about the French trying to get the Mauritanians to close their border, so as to cut off the Western strike) and down one of tributaries of the Niger, through Diabaly and Niono in direction of Segou. The latter leaving the door wide open to the capital Bamako just down the road. Currently the French claim to have the main attack forces surrounded at Niono and Diabaly. In the latter case, there was a significant massacre of 17 unarmed peaceful Deobandi Islamist scholars, on their way from Mauritania last September by the Malian army, which may have also stoked Northern Islamist desire for vengance on/liquidation of the Malian army. See mention here.

Quote:
Tuareg, Algerian, Bérabiches, Islamists, terrorists, traffickers ... The enemy against whom France is fighting has many faces. This is not one but several enemies fighting France in the sands of northern Mali.

The army of jihadists united under the black flag of ultra-radical Islam breaks down, in reality, into katibas (phalanxes, equivalent to a French company, is 80 to 100 men) driven by the logics of ethnicity, clan and ulterior motives not shared by all.

Ansar Dine: The Tuareg

Figurehead of the coalition, Iyad ag Ghaly, historic leader of the Tuareg rebellion belonging to the Ifoghas tribe, sold his soul to the devil by partnering with AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb).

Although he disapproves of his allies terrorism, he took advantage of his financial resources to achieve its goal: to make Mali an Islamic state. His movement, Ansar Dine (protectors of the faith), has made ​​itself master of northern Mali in June, after expelling his former ally, the MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad), and siphoning off its fighters. The Tuareg separatist MNLA and laity were, first, managed to conquer the Azawad in April, their historic cradle they dreamed for half a century back from the Malian state.

Besides terrorists, Ansar Dine was discretely supported by Algiers. The regional power, under the motto "divide and conquer" has continued to use its influence in its backyard. With the hope of escaping, by negotiation, military intervention serving its interests, it believed that Iyad ag Ghaly was "recuperable" until the last minute. But after pretending he was ready to negotiate, the Touareg has flip-flopped on January 1 and closed ranks with AQIM.

AQIM: Algerians

The former Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), which rallied to the al-Qaeda banner in 2007, and renamed AQIM, is still dominated by Algerians. Its leader, Abdelmalek Droukdel, hides also in Kabylia. Its two leaders in Mali's are Abou Zeid, a specialist in hostage taking and Abu Yéyia Hamame recently appointed by Droukdel as emir of AQIM in the Sahara and Sahel.

Installed in the Malian desert since 2003, when drug trafficking, kidnapping and weapons allowed it to accumulate a huge war chest, AQIM remains faithful to its primary goal: an Islamic state in a reunified Maghreb. The Salafi movement has experienced a recent split with the departure of one of its historical figures, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, "Le Borgne," [old one-eye?] more versed in the smuggling traffic than in jihadism.

Mujao: the "blacks"

Belmokhtar moved closer Mujao (Movement for the [divine] Uniqueness [= tawhid] and Jihad in West Africa), born in 2011 from a previous dissent. The "black" branch of AQIM, composed of sub-Saharan Africans under the leadership of a Mauritanian chief Hamada Ould Khairu, it is nevertheless established in the city of Gao with the complicity of the local Arab traders and is financed by Qatar. After the kidnapping of three Westerners in Tindouf on Algerian soil in 2011, Mujao distinguished itself by the kidnapping of seven Algerian diplomats in Gao in April 2012. It retains today still four of them.

Ansar al-Sharia: the Bérabiches

Most recently formed of the movements, Ansar al-Sharia (advocates/partisans of Islamic law) brings together, since December 2012, the Bérabiche Malian community of Arab origin. At their head, Oumar Ould Hamaha, aka "the Red Beard", a nickname he draws from his beard dyed with henna, who has served time with Mujao and Ansar Dine.

Boko Haram: Nigerians

Another guest was recently seen at the jihadist table in northern Mali: the Nigerian Islamist sect Boko Haram to seek the junction with AQIM.

5000-10000 men in total

This little world would be estimated between 5,000 and 10,000 jihadists. Their armament was drawn in the Libyan arsenals after the fall of Gaddafi, then in a barracks in the Malian army debacle during their conquest of northern Mali in spring 2012, and finally the black market, as highlighted by the researcher Mathieu Guidere in an interview with "Nouvel Observateur".

In the eyes of [Western] diplomacy, all these groups are lost. For MNLA the hour of revenge may have sounded [not bloody likely...]. All the more so since it'll be necessary to solve the problem of the Tuareg that has plagued Mali since independence. Very weak, they have redeemed themselves [with France/the West] in December in opening negotiations. Now they offer to "help" France to fight against the Islamists [as if]. And it is said that Algiers has re-established contact with them.

Sarah Halifa-Legrand and Farid Aïchoune
Source: cridem.org

Malijet: Who are the Islamist combattents?
(hack translation from the French)

p.l
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Jan 16 2013 23:15

How Washington helped foster the Islamist uprising in Mali

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Jan 17 2013 14:09

Reports coming through francophone media that Algerian helicopter gunships opened up on the kidnappers convoy trying to move the gas plant hostages and wasted around 34 of them. Smooth moves, guys...

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Jan 17 2013 16:05

http://bridgesfrombamako.com/2013/01/16/behind-mali-conflict/ Pro-intervention in tone, yet interesting and informative, f. i. on the role of resources (limited at most, in his view) as motivating factor in the intervention.

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Jan 17 2013 16:24

Good backgrounder looking at the complicated links between the jihadist groups through the case study of one of its leaders, Oumar Ould Hamaha, the current leader of Ansar al Shari'ah and one time lieutenant to Mokhtar Benmokhtar of the al Moulathamoune (the scarfed or masked) katibat (brigade) of the AQIM. The latter was reportedly ousted from AQIM and command of his katibat shortly before the current operations. However, he (Belmokhtar) is supposedly behind the current Algeria gas plant hostage operation, claimed in the name of the al Moulathamoune katibat - so whether his expulsion was real and this operation is a gambler's last throw, or that intel was misinformation designed to smokescreen the operation (seems unlikely, due to timing issues) is not entirely clear.

Anyway, an interesting read. And, to a certain extent, a useful counterpart to the Keenan piece linked above, which while scrupulous as regards research and detail (at least AFAICS) does tend to fall a little bit into the Counterpunch affliction of blaming everything on the US to the extent of depriving other actors of agency and reducing them to the status of passive victimhood.

GCTAT: Oumar Ould Hamaha: a case study of the bridges between three groups

Quote:
[...]
His ability to move between the three jihadist groups in Azawad is illustrative of Hamaha’s chameleon-like complexity as a character and the closeness of the relationship between the organisations. AQIM forms the mother group for both MOJWA and Ansar Dine. Many of the commanders of these other groups were formerly AQIM fighters and strong linkages have been retained. Responding to his shift in groups, Hamaha has himself commented that "we are all mujahedeen. Whether a fighter is from MOJWA, Ansar Dine or AQIM, it's the same thing…We have the same ambition, the application of sharia. Whenever there's an attack on one of us, it's an attack on everyone."16) This denial of substantive differences has likewise been repeated by other significant personalities. Yahya Abu al-Hammam has stated that AQIM does not recognise MOJWA's split from the main movement but the two were cooperating and talking to each other.17)
[...]
Despite the outward changes in group affiliations, the distinctions between the groups in the region are often difficult to determine. The groups acted jointly during the seizure of Azawad in 2012 and continue to do so to varying degrees. They are also dressed and equipped with essentially the same small arms, heavy weapons captured from the Malian army and the ubiquitous khaki coloured Toyota 4x4 pickups all baring the black jihadist flag with the Prophet’s white seal. Local people in northern Mali are themselves unable to determine which group is which.

The nature of the connections between individuals across the three groups is frequently based upon shared religious ideology, tribal affiliations, camaraderie fostered by years fighting jihad in the desert and reinforced by formal relationships through marriages.

Hamaha’s relationship with Belmokhtar – cemented through Belmoktar’s marriage to his niece - is illustrative of this and is perhaps one of the main factors in the bridges between the jihdist groups in Mali. His vocal support for his former Katiba commander when Belmokhtar’s dismissal from its leadership was reported during a period when Hamaha was supposedly a senior figure of an AQIM splinter faction perhaps underlines the often overriding personal bonds between leading figures in the groups irregardless of internal politics. Despite the apparent fractures between AQIM, MOJWA, Belmokhtar and others, the case study of Oumar Ould Hamaha suggests that factional politics and rivalries is unlikely to alter the practical relationships on the ground of the jihadist elements in the Sahel region that have operated together in various guises for years.

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Jan 17 2013 16:46
rooieravotr wrote:
http://bridgesfrombamako.com/2013/01/16/behind-mali-conflict/ Pro-intervention in tone, yet interesting and informative, f. i. on the role of resources (limited at most, in his view) as motivating factor in the intervention.

This is great, and a good antidote to the endlessly irritating lefty habit of cooking up some grand cookie-cutter imperialist conspiracy on these occassions. This particularly made me laugh:

Quote:
All of a sudden the word “strategic” keeps cropping up with reference to Mali. When you see the word associated with dusty hamlets like Konna or Diabaly, you know something’s amiss.

My housemate has travelled widely through West Africa, including Mali, and was laughing at the news (false, as it turned out) that the French had "re-taken" Konna town - at the idea that such an impoverished, remote dust-swept no-horse collection of shacks could be labelled as a "strategic town".

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Jan 17 2013 18:01

Meanwhile back in Diabali:

Quote:
Mali. Heavy casualties among the rebels, according to the mayor of Diabali

French air strikes on Diabali have caused the death of many Islamists according to Barou Diakité, the mayor of the town, we spoke to on the phone on Thursday morning .

We managed to reach by phone Thursday morning, Barou Diakité, Mayor of Diabali city [sic!] taken Monday by the Islamists, who are led by the Algerian Abou Zeid, one of the leaders of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Barou Diakité was in Bamako when he spoke to us.

33 pick-ups destroyed

According to him, the French air strikes have caused heavy casualties among the rebels who were about 2,000 in the area. 33 heavily armed pickup trucks were destroyed. French pilots have also managed to destroy a building in which there were many jihadists.

In the early afternoon, and contrary to what some sources were saying, the attack had still not been given by the French special forces against the Islamists. In the coming hours, Barou Diakité will be returning to the theater of operations.

I have seen elsewhere, yesterday, the speculation by one news source that one of the French operational priorities at the moment is to try and finally take out Abu Zaid (real name Abid Hammidou), the veteran AQIM (formerly GSPC) commander of the Tarek Ibn Ziyad Katibat, who they've been after for many years.

More prosaicly, the forces trapped in Diabali (not sure what happen to those in Niono - they may have withdrawn back to Diabali) are the main threat to Ségou - from which they would have had clear run to Bamako and cut off the government (and now French) forces fighting at Konno.

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Jan 18 2013 04:40

Ocelot wrote:

Quote:
This is great, and a good antidote to the endlessly irritating lefty habit of cooking up some grand cookie-cutter imperialist conspiracy on these occassions.

Yes, I had a giggle here and there as well. Still, when he talks about the role of resources in this conflict, I find him a bit dismissive. I don't think this French intervention is done to protect specific mineral resorces or companies. But I DO think that, on a more general level, control of resources - the proven amounts, and the amounts still to be discoverded - play their part in explaining why France - and other powers - have an interst in the region.

About "strategic" areas. No, there is no strategic value in these desert towns in themselves. But EVERY place becomse strategic as soon as an official enemy takes hold of it. Strategy in these areas means: denying territories to the enemy. That is what gave , f.i. Afghanistan its "strategic importance": Russia wanted to deny it to pro-US-states, and now the US wants to deny it to anti-US states and forces. Nothing particularly clever about the whole thing, it's the way how inter-imperial rivalries work.

So yes, the article partly debunks some of the more simple-minded leftist myths. In the process, however, he exaggerates to the other side and almost denies the reality: this is, with all its comlications, a neocolonial exercise, to be utterly rejected - as well as the other side has to be utterly rejected.

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Jan 22 2013 15:18

Interesting article from the Jihadica blog about "what's in a name" on the history behind Belmokhtar's choice of name - al-Mouwakoune Bi-Dima (“Those Who Sign with Blood”) - going back to the days of the GSPC and the GIA in the Algerian war. Also a previous piece on what the story is (or might be) with the departure from AQIM and the Al Moulathimine ("the veiled ones") Katibat.

Jihadica: What’s Old is New Again: The Legacy of Algeria’s Civil War in Today’s Jihad

Jihadica: Primer on Jihadi Players in Algeria and Mali, Pt. 2: Belmokhtar & Those Who Sign with Blood

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Jan 22 2013 16:29

One of things that our rulers are not keen on regarding the war and instability around Mali, Mauritania and working its way into Nigeria, is the role played by the democratic "liberation" of Libya in fuelling the wars around the Sahel. Today's Telegraph reports estimates that 20,000 ground-to-air missiles went "missing" from Gaddafi's many arms dumps, "one for every passanger plane in the world". Further estimates puts 150,000 mines missing. It's clear that the Tuaregs - who were guarding the Gaddafi regime - took many of these, other weapons, and fled. It's also clear that there are still fundamentalist groups in Libya and that Ain-Amenas gas plant in Algeria is very close to the very porous Libyan border.

Yesterday's Telegraph gave an interesting report that one of the leaders of the Islamists inside the gas plant early on in the hostage crisis, Abdel Rahman al-Nigeri, had been talking on the phone to the British (this explains the latter's initial exasperation with the Algerian actions). Al-Nigeri also said that the British had been talking on the phone to Moktar Belmoktar, terrorist, gun runner, drug dealer and so on. How and why were British security officials talking to these guys. These are not the sort of people whose numbers are in the phone book. Given that the affirmed policy of the British state is that "we don't negotiate with terrorists" then these, largely buried, revelations are something of an embarrassment. Of course they do and they are least implicitly backing al-Qaeda in Iraq brigades in Syria.

Belmoktar was a mujhadeen fighter in Afghanistan against the Russians and was later part of the Islamist GIA (Armed Islamic Front) in the war in Algeria in the 90s. The GIA were welcomed by British intelligence into the British capital as a useful card to hold onto. This was a part of the reason that the French labelled the capital "Londonistan"

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Jan 22 2013 17:18

Imperialist policy in Africa still continues to be (at least to some extent) divided along Francophone and Anglophone lines. It's very noticeable that both the US and the UK have been very cool on backing up France's military intervention. The US State dept has floated stories (like on the front page of the NYT the other day) calling into question whether "boots on the ground" was more counterproductive than anything else. It seems likely that there is some connection to US/UK ally Qatar's reported financial backing of at least some of the jihadist groups in Azawad and the wider Sahel. It would make sense that the Brits had some contacts amongst the jihadi groups - but equally, right until last weeks offensive, the Algerians were negotiating with Ansar Dine (iirc, see above). A bit of a tangled mess from this distance...

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Jan 29 2013 10:16

Somewhat belatedly, the Alternative Libertaire response:

Quote:
Mali: Areva is well worth a war

You thought French Africa was a thing of the past? It most certainly is not, and despite Hollande's rhetoric on this issue, as on many others, the Socialist Party and the UMP are like Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

"France has no interest in Mali", declared François Hollande to the press on 16 January. "It is merely at the county's service." Like it? France has no interest in the Sahel region? Not even in the uranium mines in Niger, operated by Areva [1] to supply French nuclear power plants?

Certainly, the fact that an army of Salafists are the law in northern Mali pleases no-one - neither the local inhabitants condemned to live under the rule of fanatics nor the other States in the region who fear destabilization, nor other Malians, who see their country split in two and on the verge of collapse.

But if the situation is of particular concern to France, it is primarily because in recent years, uranium mining in Niger has become dangerous, as a result of the repeated incursions and kidnappings. It is above all for this reason that today the French army is bombing and begun fighting on the ground.

This intervention also allows France to regain its leadership in the region ahead of its US ally who for several years has been training - unsuccessfully, it seems - the Malian army to fight the "war on terror".

Economic and geopolitical interests weigh heavily in the balance, much more so than chopped-off hands or defaced mausoleums.

The Malians who today are crying "Vive la France" and who see François Hollande as a liberator [2] need to see the reality of the situation.

Beating the Salafists, freeing the people of Gao or Timbuktu - this should have been a matter for the Malians themselves, possibly with the help of neighbouring countries. That would really have signified a break with the dependence vis-à-vis the former colonial power.

In letting the Élysée Palace complacently take over, and even agreeing with relief to this intervention, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad [3], the interim government in Mali and also the "anti-imperialist" Captain Sanogo [4] have tied themselves deliberately to the neo-colonialist chariot and with them the peoples of West Africa for a long time to come.

Alternative Libertaire also denounces the security reinforcements here, in France, which are accompanying this war, with the move to code red of Vigipirate [5] and the return of the terrorist bogeyman being used to increase repression and the stigmatization of Islam and Africans, the eternal "enemies within".

French army, go home!

African comrades, reject neo-colonialism!

And... no nuclear!

Alternative Libertaire

16 January 2013
Translation by FdCA - International Relations Office.

Notes:

1. http://lexpansion.lexpress.fr/afrique/pourquoi-areva-reste-t-il-au-niger-malgre-les-dangers_239131.html
2. http://www.humanite.fr/monde/les-maliens-de-france-entre-angoisse-et-soulagemen-513006
3. http://www.tamazgha.fr/Le-MNLA-met-en-garde-quant-aux.html
4. http://www.malijet.com/actualite-politique-au-mali/flash-info/61047-guerre-au-mali-apres-dioncounda-le-capitaine-sanogo-remercie-la-.html
5. Translator's note: France's national security altert system.

http://www.anarkismo.net/article/24752