JOHANNESBURG (AP) — French-led forces have wrested control of three key cities in northern Mali from al-Qaida-linked militants, but the fighters have escaped with their weapons into a desert region the size of Texas and are poised to mount counterattacks.
New military strategies will be needed to rout the jihadists from their desert hideouts. When the French leave their former colony, armed extremists are still likely to remain. No one has yet publicly announced a campaign to hunt them down in the Sahara and in Mali’s villages, where they are believed to be slipping in among civilians.
“The French and Malian forces are dealing with an enemy – jihadists – that don’t have a fixed address, that don’t wear uniforms,” said Ayo Johnson, director of Viewpoint Africa, a think tank in London. “It’s an enemy that can disappear into the population and come out at will. The insurgents play the long game. They are not in a hurry, the French are. The Islamists could use the population as human shields. They could use suicide bombers. This is not a conventional war.”