Mauritanian troops and aircraft are deploying back into Mali, in anticipation of an AQIM attack. News reports say that air and ground forces are moving out from Nema, with reinforcements as well. The operation comes after the government announced its intention to wage a “pre-emptive” war on AQIM last week. This is as the Malian Chief of Staff Gen. Gabriel Poudiougou is in Noukachott discussing coordination on counter-terrorism. Given recent tension between these countries and Algeria, especially over previous operations similar to this one, one can speculate that the Algerians are looking at this with pursed lips, even if one could reasonably look at this as Mali acting in its legitimate role as a part of the Tamanrasset process (Mali currently holds the rotating chair of that questionable body, but the failure of that process to increase trust and cooperation across the board strengthens an assumption that the Algerians will be irritated regardless; though this blog tries to avoid fortune telling). These measures could also be related to the French hostages currently held by AQIM; if they are accompanied by French troops, as in the past, the impact on overall regional cooperation would be impacted in important ways, especially if the Algerians have not been consulted. Little has been said in the Algerian press on either count as of yet.
Updates to come.
UPDATE: A little background on the deployment from Mauritanian sources: The Mauritanians attempted to reach a deal with AQIM, via various intermediaries, that looked like this: 1) the Mauritanians would release the Aleg killers under a presidential amnesty (they would also renounce terrorism) and see that AQIM got its ransom money (both AQIM’s terms); 2) AQIM would release the remaining hostages; 3) as a good faith measure, the Mauritanians withdrew their forces from the areas around Gao and Tassilit (where Mauritanian troops have been operating on a semi-permanent basis). It was set to go ahead, but Bin Laden’s dispatch from 26 October hardened attitudes and the deal was cut off. More to come.