Attack on Base in Mali Brings Conflict to Doorstep of Capital

DAKAR, Senegal — Insurgents mounted a raid on a military camp close to the capital of Mali on Friday morning, its armed forces said, bringing a decade-long conflict that has progressively destabilized the country’s north and center to the doorstep of its leaders.

Gunfire rang out before dawn at the military camp, in Kati, 10 miles northwest of the capital, Bamako. Two assailants were killed, the armed forces said a statement released on Twitter about the attack, which it said involved two booby-trapped vehicles full of explosives. Malians posted videos of gunshots and a rising cloud of smoke on social media.

The statement from the armed forces said that the situation was “under control” and that a search was underway “to flush out the perpetrators and their accomplices,” adding that citizens should go about their lives as normal.

But life is far from normal in Mali, a West African country in which a military junta has ruled since carrying out two successive coups in 2020 and 2021. Mali’s government has recently fallen out with its longtime military partner, France, and has turned to Russia. mercenaries to help fight armed insurgents.

Mali has been battling an Islamist insurgency for over a decade. A rebel coalition toppled the country’s government in March 2012 and then armed Islamists took over Mali’s northern cities. Both groups were using weapons that came from Libya, which had been thrown into chaos in 2011 by civil war and a NATO intervention.

Despite the arrival of French troops and a United Nations peacekeeping force, militants spread across the country and then to neighboring nations, destabilizing a vast swath of the Sahel, the arid region south of the Sahara.

Malian and French troops pushed the insurgents out of Mali’s cities, but they continued to control large areas of the countryside, where the state is often absent. A lack of opportunities for young men, along with other grievances against the government, pushed many into the arms of Islamist groups, and resentment at the state’s inability to control them mounted until the president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, was ousted in the coup of 2020. .

Now the violence seems to be ratcheting up again. On Thursday, assailants carried out “complex and simultaneous” raids targeting another camp, various military posts and personnel in six locations across Mali, the armed forces said in a previous statement. All of the attacks were contained, the statement added.

While the attacks multiply, French troops — which once numbered more than 5,000 in the region, most of them in Mali — have been packing up their bases and preparing to withdraw from the country altogether, moving the bulk of their operations across the border to Niger. . The last French soldiers are expected to leave their biggest base, in Gao, a city in northern Mali, in mid-August.

Criticism of France, the former colonial power, has increased sharply in Mali in recent years, and the withdrawal is popular with many in the West African country.

Some also want the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali, the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, or Minusma, which has more than 15,000 personnel, to leave. Yerewolo, a civil society group that organized demonstrations demanding France’s departure, has now turned its sights on the peacekeeping mission, which it describes as an “occupying force.”

Two weeks ago, 49 Ivorian soldiers who had just arrived in the country to work with the peacekeeping mission were arrested by the Malian authorities, which accused them of being mercenaries. After a spokesman for the mission said that the Malian government would have been told of their arrival in advance, he was ordered to leave the country.

With the French on their way out, and the Malian armed forces increasingly stretched, some Malians worry that attacks like those of this week will become increasingly difficult to prevent.

“Yesterday was a day of high pressure. Today, it’s the military’s main location under attack,” said a former government minister of Mali who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals. “What will happen after the French withdrawal has already begun — this is what we see now.”

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