The Tessalit camp has just been evacuated by the Chadians of Minusma, the UN force engaged in Mali. Saturday October 21, their last convoy left this base which they had occupied since 2013, to head towards Gao where the main influence of Minusma is located. This is the fifth camp liberated by the UN since August.
These forces had been present for ten years to consolidate the victory of the French army in 2013 (Operation Barkhane) over armed groups in northern Mali. However, the Malian junta, in power since 2020, demanded their departure. The decision was taken in June by the UN Security Council. The withdrawal of the peacekeepers, 11,600 soldiers and 1,500 police officers, must last until December 31 of this year.
Escalation of tensions
But this departure takes place against a backdrop of escalating tensions between the Malian army, Tuareg armed groups and jihadist groups, dangerously reminiscent of the situation of 2012 which ended in a total defeat of Bamako, and a secession of all of northern Mali.
This context is so violent that it accelerated the withdrawal of Chadians from Tessalit and, at the beginning of last week, from the camp they occupied in Aguelhok, taking Bamako by surprise. The junta was forced to urgently dispatch some soldiers to Tessalit, forty-eight hours before the complete departure of the Chadians, fearing that the armed groups it is fighting would seize this base. The spokesperson for the Malian government, Colonel Abdoulaye Maïga, even went so far as to accuse France of being behind this acceleration of the UN withdrawal in order to harm the interests of Bamako.
“The French junta is sparing no effort to scare away Minusma, instead of an orderly withdrawal,” he accused on Wednesday October 18. “The objectives of this orchestrated flight, in violation of the timetable for ceding control to the Malian authorities, constitute yet another betrayal of which the Armed and Security Forces of Mali are victims and aim to equip terrorist groups, by deliberately abandoning significant quantities of “arms and ammunition to carry out their evil design,” he declared.
War between the Malian army and the Tuaregs
On the ground, the front formed by the Tuaregs, signatories of the 2015 Algiers peace agreement, and the separatists, against the armed forces of Bamako is raising fears of a new partition of the north of the country.
On October 2, a Malian army convoy (120 vehicles, including light armored vehicles, and nearly 600 men, including 150 to 200 Russian mercenaries), left Gao for Kidal, the historic stronghold of the Tuareg separatists. His progress was greatly slowed down by numerous clashes with the latter. Arriving at Anefis on Saturday October 14, the column resumed its march towards Kidal, about a hundred kilometers further north, on October 19.
The Tuareg rebels announced that they were preparing to massively attack the convoy. “Our fight against the Malian army and the Wagner group is existential,” their military leader Bilal Ag Acherif told the French daily L’Opinion.