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Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ United Nations Cartographic Section

This weekend brought good news for French and Malian forces fighting in Mali to rid the West African country of Islamic terrorists. On the sixteenth day of French military intervention in the war-torn country, Malian and French soldiers gained the city of Gao, a northern keystone city that served as a fortress for the Islamic armies, marking a turning point in the struggle. The French Minister of Defense stated that Friday night the Special Forces captured the airport and another strategic point in Gao. The city’s mayor, Sadou Diallo, finally regained his city and could return home after having been moved to neighboring Bamako. A Malian source of security could attest to the fact that civilians responded to the French and African forces’ victory with great jubilation and that “everyone was happy.” According to a spokesman, there was little combat (strictly speaking), but sporadic bouts of harassment by the terrorists who would open fire from well-protected areas in the urban environment.

Unfortunately, the humanitarian situation in Mali is not doing so well. According to recent testimonials, living conditions have continued to grow more dangerous in the big cities in the north of the country. In Gao, the situation has deteriorated and instances of acute malnutrition have been reported. Timbuktu also faces a dilemma, as many of the city’s inhabitants have reported that they have been deprived of water and electricity for the past three days.

On Monday afternoon (January 28), the French-Malian army celebrated another victory, this time in the mystical city of Timbuktu. Utilizing a combined terrestrial and aerial offensive, along with parachutists on the periphery, the city fell, to the delight of many. Timbuktu is another flagship Islamic city in sub-Saharan Africa and was considered to be another stronghold of the Islamic terrorists. It has been under the control of Al-Qaeda since April of 2012 and has suffered many hardships throughout the months of occupation. One of the inhabitants of Timbuktu, twenty-one year old Mahamane, expressed that he was extremely relieved to see the French and Malian troops arriving in his city, after months of suffering and being “pestered” by the Islamic armies (by whip or branch). Mahamane was not the only civilian pleased to see friendly forces parading his streets – cries of “Mali, Mali, Mali!” filled the air as locals waved Malian and French flags to demonstrate their gratitude.

During Islamic occupation, Timbuktu suffered as a city as much as individuals did in the streets. The armies committed numerous atrocities in the name of their rigorous interpretation of the Sharia (Islamic) law. Many mausoleums of Islamic saints were destroyed in Timbuktu, being deemed signs of idolatry. The armies also destroyed a building, the Ahmed Baba, which contained precious manuscripts dating back hundreds of years to the pre-Islamic era. The research institute was believed to contain sixty to one hundred thousand manuscripts, according to the Malian Minister of Culture. Timbuktu was the Islamic intellectual and spiritual capital in Africa during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and also served as a prosperous caravan city. The mayor of Timbuktu, Halley Ousmane, is currently residing in Bamako and commented on the atrocity, denouncing the Islamic armies for their unspeakable actions – “That which happened in Timbuktu is dramatic…The center, Ahmed Baba, where the valuable manuscripts were found was burned by the Islamic army. That is a real cultural crime.”

Despite all of the good that the French and Malian army is doing, some are afraid that the re-acquisition of Northern Mali will be accompanied by acts of vengeance against Muslims (who did commit numerous crimes, including amputations, stoning and executions). The Human Rights Watch demanded on Monday that Malian authorities take immediate measures to protect all Malians from retaliation and to keep watch for developing inter-ethnic tensions.

French president François Hollande is confident that French and Malian forces are close to winning the war. During a press conference at the Élysée Palace, he stated that he believes it to really be African forces winning the battle, with just a bit of French support. “France’s mission is not to stay in Mali. Our job is to leave the country in a stable state where the African forces can keep her on their own.” The next plan of action is to move on to the city of Kidal, the third largest city, in the far north of the country near the Algerian border.

There, Taureg rebels and dissidents belonging to an Islamist group affirmed that they maintain total control of the city thus far. “Together we have assured the security of the city of Kidal,” stated an old spokesman for the Islamist army. The terrorist groups claim that they are not looking for a confrontation with the French army, nor with the African intervention forces, but want “to protect the people from the atrocities of the Malian army.”