France in Mali: A year of hunting jihadists in West Africa


One year ago, France launched a military offensive to rout armed rebels and Islamist militants from Mali’s northern territories. FRANCE 24 takes a look back at the key moments of France’s intervention in the west African country.


On January 11, 2013, President François Hollande gave the executive order for France’s military to start Operation Serval. The initial aim of the air and ground attack was to halt the advance of a coalition of Tuareg rebel and Islamist fighters who had already claimed around half of Mali’s territory from government forces.

Twelve months on, French troops have been praised for successfully pushing back and diminishing armed groups like al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar Dine and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO). But sporadic unrest in Mali’s troubled desert north continues.

Mali has elected a new president and is enjoying relative stability, but 2,500 French soldiers still remain on the ground. Reduced by about half since the height of the military operation, French forces should now be shaved down to 1,000 soldiers in the coming months.

As Operation Serval winds down, FRANCE 24 takes a look back at 13 key dates from the one-year-old intervention.

January 11, 2013: France launches Operation Serval to repel armed rebel and Islamist fighters who overran half the country in a few months. During the previous day, the Malian army had lost control of the strategic central town of Konna, located just 70 kilometres from Mopti, the country’s third largest city.

Three days later, a French bombing campaign pushes Islamist fighters out of the main northern cities, while Paris announces the start of ground operations.

January 26-30: French and Malian troops liberate the former Islamist stronghold of Gao, and push on to the ancient city of Timbuktu which has been abandoned by fleeing militants.

French troops then reclaim the airstrip near Kidal, a town near the northeastern border that is under the control of the MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) separatist rebel group. Chadian soldiers who are also part of the French-led military coalition are given the task to keep and secure the strategic area.

February 18: A new offensive to dislodge entrenched Islamist fighters from the mountainous Ifoghas region near Kidal leads to significant losses for Chadian special forces fighting along French soldiers. In late February, the French army announces the death of the Algerian-born militant Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, one of AQIM’s top commanders.

April 8: Operation “Gustav” north of the city of Gao commits one of the largest contingents of French soldiers since the start of the intervention. Over 1,000 soldiers are backed by drones, fighter jets and armoured vehicles.

June 18: Malian authorities and Tuareg MNLA rebels – who still occupy the town of Kidal – agree on a ceasefire in the Burkina Faso capital of Ouagadougou. The accord paves the way for national elections and the progressive return of the Malian army into the territories previously held by rebels.

 • July 1: The authority of the so-called African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA) military mission is officially transferred to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) peacekeeping operation.

August 11: Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK), a former prime minister, is declared the winner in the second round of the presidential election with 77.62% support.

Mali once again boasts a popularly-elected president, more than one year after the March 2012 coup ousted Amadou Toumani Touré and precipitated the loss of half the country’s territory to Islamists.

September 28: After several months of relative calm, Islamist insurgents launch a new wave of violence. Over a dozen civilians and members of the MINUSMA force are killed in bomb attacks.

October 20: In a bid to “curb the resurgence” of terrorist elements, Operation "Hydra" is launched by French, Malian and Minusma forces near the border with Niger.

November 2: French RFI radio journalists Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon are kidnapped in Kidal and murdered. It was their second assignment in the region. In July they had covered the first round of the presidential elections from Kidal.

December 15: President Keita’s party, Rally for Mali, wins the second round of parliamentary elections. The party and its allies win 115 of the 147 seats in the country’s National Assembly.

January 8, 2014: In his annual New Year address to France’s military personnel, President Hollande says that “the bulk of the work has been accomplished” in Mali. He also announces that French forces will be scaled down to 1,600 by mid-February, and then gradually to around 1,000 troops.

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