French Admit Mali Fight Tougher Than Expected

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Reuters reported on Friday that France's battle against militant extremists in northern Mali is proving tougher than previously expected according to French and United Nations envoys.

The al-Qaida-supported rebels are proving to be both better trained and equipped than previous estimates had suggested, with many members of Ansar Dine, MUJWA, and al-Qaida North African wing, AQIM, refusing to flee in the face of French ground and air assaults on front line positions.

Here's a closer look at the combat situation in central and northern Mali.

Diplomats admit situation more difficult than anticipated

A senior French diplomat was quoted in Reuters as saying that "our enemies were well-armed, well-equipped, well-trained and determined." French forces had surrounded the town of Diabaly on Thursday, and the diplomat noted that it was surprising the militants were holding their ground after seizing the town three days ago.

The article suggested some of the foreign fighters may have been trained and armed by Libya prior to the 2011 civil war.

Aid group unable to reach town

The Malian and French military forces have closed the roads to the central town of Konna and aren't giving permission for Doctors Without Borders to travel into the area, according to the humanitarian aid group .

"It is critical that neutral, impartial medical and humanitarian aid be allowed into the areas affected by fighting," said operations director Malik Allaouna. "We call on all parties to the conflict to respect both the civilian populations and the work of humanitarian organizations."

French issue snapshot of humanitarian situation

The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs posted an infographic summary of the humanitarian situation in Mali to its website on Wednesday, intended to highlight the number of internal and external displacements in the country as well as the humanitarian logistics issues and conflict zones, including Diabaly, Konna, Lere, and Niafunke, all central Malian towns.

U.S. providing logistical support

U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland confirmed that the United States continued to provide a supporting role in the conflict, and "were providing information and intelligence support to the French. I believe you saw Secretary Panetta earlier today make clear that we're now moving forward with support for the lifting of French materiel into the theater, and we're continuing to look at the other things that they have asked us for."

In addition, Nuland said that the U.S. would provide ECOWAS pre-deployment training, a lift, and sustainment packages. Trainers will be sent to supporting African countries, not to Mali itself.

Shawn Humphrey is a former contributor to The Flint Journal and an amateur Africanist, focusing his personal studies on human rights and political issues on the continent.

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