- Attack last week prompted president to fire defense minister
- Malian army isn’t strong enough to face militants: analyst
Mali will deploy more soldiers to the center of the country following an attack in which militants briefly occupied a town, a breach of security President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita deemed so severe he fired his defense minister.
Deploying police to ward off militant attacks isn’t sufficient, Interior Security Minister Salif Traore told reporters late Monday in the capital, Bamako. “We need a real military operation and that’s what we have decided.”
Three soldiers were killed and several public buildings were ransacked in a spate of attacks on Sept. 1 and 2 around Boni, a small town on the road that links the economic hubs of Mopti and Gao in the north.
The attacks took place relatively close to the center of the country, where the majority of the population lives, while all previous attacks this year occurred in the remote north, which is a stronghold of insurgents. Defense Minister Tieman Hubert Coulibaly was fired late Saturday, according to a statement from the presidency.
Islamist militant attacks have intensified in West Africa since weapons and fighters flowed from Libya during the ouster of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. A year later, Malian insurgents joined with Islamist fighters in a campaign to occupy Mali’s north. A French intervention pushed out most militants, but hit-and-run attacks on security forces continue while neighboring Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast witnessed their first Islamist-inspired attacks in the past year.
Mali’s army can’t effectively stop militant attacks, according to Jean-Herve Jezequel, a political analyst at the International Crisis Group. “Despite the training provided by the European Union since 2013, the army lacks capacity until today,” Jezequel said by phone from Dakar. “We’re talking about a long-term undertaking. One or two years isn’t enough to get a strong national army.”
The United Nations mission in Mali sent peacekeepers and air support to Boni to help push out suspected Islamist militants on Saturday, according to an e-mailed statement. The UN mission in Mali is the deadliest current UN operation worldwide, with more than 50 peacekeepers killed since 2013.