An Cosantóir

April 2013

An Cosantóir the official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces and Reserve Defence Forces.

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Page 23 of 39

24 | At the GATES OF HELL by Paul O���Brien MA Photos where credited T he old saying ���from here to Timbuktu��� was used to invoke images of exotic, far-distant lands. However, in recent months the African country of Mali, where the city of Timbuktu is located, has made headlines throughout the world. Two months ago France began military operations in the country at the behest of the Malian government. This intervention, codenamed ���Operation Serval���, is aimed at halting fighting and restoring government authority in the conflicttorn north of the country. Mali, a former French colony, and the world���s 24th largest country at 480,000 sq miles, is a landlocked nation in West Africa comprising eight regions, and is comparable in size to South Africa. The country���s northern border reaches deep into the inhospitable Sahara Desert and its north-eastern border lies in the mountainous terrain of the Adrar des Ifoghas. The south of the country, where the majority of its inhabitants reside, is tropical and dominated by the Niger and Senegal rivers. In January 2012, a Tuareg rebellion in northern Mali led to a period of instability in the region. The chaotic situation provided an opportunity for extremist Islamic groups, including Ansar Dine and Al-Qaeda, to turn on the Tuaregs and seize control, with the expressed aim An Cosant��ir April 2013 Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) teach mounted infantry tactics to soldiers from the Malian Army in Timbuktu, Mali. (Staff Sgt Edward Braly, USAF) of implementing strict Islamic Sharia law in Mali. According to UN estimates, thousands of people subsequently fled south to avoid the fighting. The situation caused Western powers to become increasingly concerned that Mali may be used as a staging area for terrorist attacks throughout the world. Using the country���s capital, Bamako, as a forward operating base, French forces deployed 2,500 troops to bolster the Malian army. They are also working with 3,000 West African troops who are participating in a UN-approved intervention mission. Responding to the French intervention Oumar Ould Hamaha, a spokesman for MUJWA (Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa), which has imposed Sharia law in the north of the country, said: ���France has opened the gates of hell ��� it has fallen into a trap much more dangerous than Iraq, Afghanistan or Somalia.��� This threat did not deter the French and in January a column of French Foreign Legion armoured vehicles moved into position at Niono, 190 miles from Bamako. At the same time Malian troops secured an area near the Mauritanian border. This was achieved with French air support, in the form of four Mirage 2000D and four Rafale fighter jets, which bombed and strafed enemy positions, forcing them to fall back.

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