28 January, 2013

Mali Map Update 3: Gao and Timbuktu Retaken

This is an update of our Mali conflict map - for the original story, see Mali Map: Islamist Control & French Intervention. To check for further updates, visit the Mali channel on Political Geography Now.

Updated map of fighting and territorial control in Mali during the January 2013 French intervention against the Islamist forces of Ansar Dine and MUJAO. Reflects the Jan. 26-27 recapture of major northern cities Gao and Timbuktu by French and Malian forces.
Updated map of territorial control and fighting in Mali, as of Jan. 27, 2013. Map by Evan Centanni, modified from Wikimedia map by Orionist, using images by Carport and NordNordWest (source). License: CC BY-SA.
French-Malian troops capture two major northern cities
Events have proceeded quickly in Mali's ongoing war since the France's military intervention against radical Islamist rebels began just over two weeks ago. This weekend, French and Malian troops recaptured Gao and Timbuktu, two of the three major towns seized by separatist rebels last spring and taken over by radical right-wing militias a few months later.

After taking back most of the country's central region earlier this week (See: Mali Map Update 2: Douentza Secured by Government), the allied French-Malian forces proceeded northeast from Diabaly and Douentza. On Friday, they took the town of Hombori on the road to Gao, even as Al Qaeda linked MUJAO rebels destroyed a bridge near the border with Niger in order to obstruct a looming invasion by Nigerien and Chadian troops.

Flag of Mali Country Name:  
• Mali (English, French, Bambara)
Official Name:  
• Republic of Mali (English)
• République du Mali (French) 
• Mali ka Fasojamana (Bambara)
Capital: Bamako
On Saturday, the French and Malian armies seized Gao itself, where they seem to have encountered a limited amount of resistance from the rebels of MUJAO. Many of the militants had already fled the major cities after weeks of French airstrikes against their positions, and on Sunday the allied troops swept quickly through Léré and all the way to Timbuktu, where they are reportedly now establishing control.

Also in the past week, a major faction of the rebel group Ansar Dine defected, forming a new organization called the Islamic Movement for the Azawad. The new faction, dominated by Malian Tuareg people, claims to renounce Islamic extremism, instead saying they want to negotiate peacefully for increased autonomy in the country's north.

Meanwhile, the French and Malian armies are receiving increasing support from other countries. The U.S., though not directly involved in the conflict, has been providing logistical support to the French military. And several days ago, troops from the neighboring country of Burkina Faso became the first foreign African forces to be deployed alongside the Malian and French contingents (though they still aren't on the front lines).

On a darker note, accusations have spread of ethnically-motivated murders of Tuareg and Arab civilians by the Malian military (the northern rebels are mostly Tuareg and Arab people). This comes amid the mysterious barring of foreign journalists from towns occupied by the Malian and French forces. Officials have denied any knowledge of such killings, but human rights organizations have been increasingly raising alarms over the alleged abuse.

Original Story: Mali Map: Islamist Control & French Intervention

Recommended Reading: In Mali, Diabaly residents helped repel Islamist militants

Graphic of Malian flag is in the public domain (source).


  1. I've heard mixed things on Timbuktu. France24 says that the French and Malian forces have surrounded the city but not taken it yet.

    Also, calling the Islamists "radical right wing" doesn't really work as a) they are outside the understanding of classical politics b) the alternative in Mali is hardly even moderate by Western standards c) the "right wing" nature is questionable. Are they Ron Paul-like or Mitt Romney-like?

    1. Thanks for the comment. You're certainly right that the situation in Timbuktu is not settled yet. In this case, I erred on the side of the map not appearing out of date, though I did make an effort not to imply too strongly in the text that the capture of Timbuktu was for certain.

      I'm not settled on how to describe Ansar Dine and MUJAO ideologically. The term "Islamists" is, in my opinion, even more problematic than "right wing". If a political party or militant group in Europe and the Americas espouses an extremely conservative interpretation/implementation of Christianity, we don't call them "Christianists" - we call them "far right".

      I don't want to get into a politically charged comparison of MUJAO to Mitt Romney (do you consider him a "radical"?). But I don't see any reason why Ansar Dine or MUJAO is "outside the understanding of classical politics". They are more or less classical conservatives - they believe in a state-imposed moral order based on what they see as traditional values and hierarchies.

      All that said, I'm still searching for the right way to talk about them, and I'll definitely take your criticism into account in my considerations.

    2. yeah, even though i sort of agree with catholicgauze, i sympathize with you... there's no way to accurately describe this, and i always cringe when commentators compare islamists in say, somalia, with southern baptists. so frowning on dancing and voting against gay marriage is *completely* the same as a violent political governmental overthrow, oppression of women and murder of religious opponents? my goodness, alabama has atheist societies, mosques, etc. (rant off)

      anyhow, i dont mind 'right wing' in this case. they aren't economically right, but it's probably more similar to the baptist than to say, the occupy movement, right?

      keep up the great mapping! you're doing a fine job of navigating the politics of political geography..

    3. Thanks for your input, as well as your compliments on the maps. I appreciate it!

      It seems like you understood where I was coming from when I used the term "radical right-wing". I wasn't trying to compare them to the Republican Party or anything like that - I was suggesting something much farther right, as well as much more violent, than any major groups operating openly in the U.S. today. Likewise, if I were to use the term "far-left", I would be referring to something like Communists or anarchists, not to the Democratic Party (e.g. the FARC in Columbia are regularly referred to as "leftist rebels").

      It's good to hear people's opinions though. There may still be a better way to address the ideological dimension, and I'll be continuing to put thought into it.

    4. As a side note - part of the reason why the term "Islamist" seems inadequate to me is that these groups are not trying to introduce Islam to Mali. Ninety percent of Malians are already Muslims, and the quote I keep hearing from locals all over Mali, including the north, goes something like "We're already devout Muslims! We don't need these clowns to come lecture us about Islam".

    5. That's an excellent point... hadn't thought of that before. And you're right, usually you hear the 'islamist' verbage in places where political islam is trying to expand to new territory (Nigeria, for instance)

    6. I've also heard the term applied to non-militant religion-based political parties in Muslim-majority countries - but it seems like that's one of the situations where it's least appropriate.

  2. CNN reported Timbuktu was surround by French and Malian forces. French has secured airport (1.5 miles south of Timbuktu). Militias abandoned towns of Elaket, Bourem Inali and Eoua on Niger River (7 miles southeast of Timbuktu)

    Fox News reported French and Malian forces is move toward Bourem (50 miles north of Gao) via AP wire.

    1. Al Jazeera Arabic reported French and Malian forces to seized half of Timbuktu. 200 French special force is advanced to north of Timbuktu to hunting down fleeing Militias and seized all roads.

      It seem They block fleeing militias out of Timbuktu. They're trap inside city.

      AJA say they protect sacred holy Muslim sites.

      Video by Euronews http://youtu.be/cuNokG3MmWU

    2. Thanks for the tips. It seems that marking Timbuktu as "government controlled" on the map was a bit premature, though things are apparently moving in that direction.

  3. I think you could remove "rebel influence" for all lands south of niger, since they wouldn't have take the risk to have people trapped here. But you make beautiful maps

    1. Thanks for the input and the kind compliments. I debated this issue myself. For now, it seems like we still can't assume that all rebels are gone from this region, and leaving it shaded also serves well to show the two-pronged advance of the French-Malian forces. But I'll be keeping a close eye on the news, and I do expect the area south of the Niger to be removed from the area of "rebel influence" by the next update.

  4. Thank you for keeping us geographically informed.

    Wich software do you use to make such maps?
    I'd love to make similar maps about French military assets in the region.

    1. My pleasure!

      I mostly use Inkscape for editing the maps. It's great for SVG files, and a lot of my maps start from blank or basic maps that I find in SVG format on Wikimedia Commons. If they don't have what I need, I sometimes create my own background map using Quantum GIS and data from Natural Earth. All of these are free downloads that you can find easily by searching the web. Try it out!

  5. My assumption is that the big thing/area at the top left is all desert. With the air strikes map it looks like there are just a few 'rebel' towns still around. So isn't this thing almost over? If so, why am I hearing the US say 'it could take years to win in Mali'.

    1. That's right, the area at the top left is mostly desert, and the rebels have lost their two most important towns. One of the remaining issues, as I understand it, is that the rebels potentially have an advantage in defending the mountainous area around Kidal. It's not heavily populated, but the terrain offers more cover and Al Qaeda has actually been operating freely there since even before this rebellion started.

      The other thing is that, even if French forces take all the rebel-held towns this week, it won't necessarily put an end to rebel activity. Precisely because there is a lot of desert out there (plus mountains, caves, etc.), it would be hard to quash a an insurgency against militants using guerrilla warfare.

      It's not that it would be "another Afghanistan" (it's a different country with its own situation), but it seems the U.S. government is worried some of their lessons learned in Afghanistan and Iraq might still apply there.

  6. Reuters TV reported French force retake Timbuktu. Malian troops searched house-to-house in Gao and Timbuktu. They found explosive, weapon and other left behind by militias.

    CNN reported U.S. extended deployment of surveillance drones that could track down rebel bases and columns in the Sahara desert. Mali's neighbor Niger on Tuesday gave permission for U.S. drones to fly from its territory.

    Chadian troops were expected to deploy up to Kidal in the northeast to secure it, officials in Niger said via @AP tweeted.

  7. Breaking News: French troops now control Kidal airport in Mali, French military spokesman confirms via @AP

    French force retake airport and south gate in Kidal - USA Today reports

    BBC reported French forces have moved on from Douentza and are now in Kidal, in the last of Mali rebel strongholds