Al-Qaeda fighters have advanced from their stronghold in northern Mali into the central region of the country, clashing with government forces.The army used artillery to bombard the extremists in a village located east of the town of Mopti, which lies on the main road leading to the capital, Bamako.
Since “al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb” and its local allies captured northern Mali in March, Mopti has been the last outpost of government control in the centre of the country. The fact that the Islamists appear to have advanced towards Mopti suggests they are enlarging the area under their control, which already exceeds 300,000 square miles.
Colonel Yamoussa Camara, the defence minister, told Radio France International that “jihadist elements” had increased their forces in positions opposite the national army.
Last month, the United Nations Security Council authorised the deployment of an African force to reunite Mali. The plan was that 3,000 troops from other African countries would join a similar number from Mali’s own army to retake the north.
But Mali’s civilian prime minister has been overthrown by the army, which wields de facto control over the central government and is wary of any outside military intervention.
Even if the army’s suspicions could be overcome, any such force would take months to assemble and would also be hampered by the local rainy season. If an operation to recapture the north takes place at all, it is unlikely to start before September. In the meantime, AQIM and its allies could take the opportunity to capture more territory and strengthen their hold over the northern two-thirds of the country.
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