Over 600 Islamist fighters have been killed since the military operations began in the West African nation of Mali on 11 January 2013, while five French and 63 Malian soldiers lost their lives, according to figures released by the Malian army this week.
But these figures have not been corroborated by independent sources, due to the difficulty of accessing the war zone, which has since been declared a no-go area by French and Mali armies.
While the casualties occurred mainly in the northern provinces of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal, where Islamist rebels of Ansar-Dine, Mujao and al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb lay siege for almost a year, deadly combats have also taken place in Konna, central Mali, and Diabaly at some 400 km north of the capital Bamako.
The statistics came as United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon said this week that up to 11 200 troops will be sent to Mali to ‘keep the peace’ and provide security to cities and towns believed to be at highest risk from radical Islamists’ attacks.
Ban also said that a second military force will battle Islamist fighters beyond the UN mandate, possibly referring to France, Mali and Chad, whose forces are currently engaged in do-or-die operations to flush out well-armed and well-motivated Islamists determined to fight on ‘until the end’.
“Terrorist groups and tactics, the proliferation of weapons, improvised explosive devices, unexploded ordnance and landmines are expected to pose significant threats in Mali,” the South Korea-born leader said.
He said it was imperative for a parallel force to conduct major combat and counter-terrorism operations and provide specialist support beyond the scope of the United Nations mandate and capability.
However, the Mali war has not only produced deadly casualties, but also generated a massive humanitarian disaster, as close to 500 000 Malians, including women and children, fled their homes to seek food, water and peace in the south and in neighbouring countries such as Niger, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Algeria.
An Oxfam International’s recent survey conducted in the circle of Bourem, an area in the Gao region where it carries out its programmes, found that up to 80% of adults have reduced their daily food intake, in order to allow their children to eat at least twice a day.
They have also had to reduce their daily food rations or share the food they received with neighbours or family members, the survey said.
“Military interventions carried out since the beginning of the year have led to road closures and the departure of traders, who have still not returned to the area,” the UK-based aid agency said last week.
“Furthermore, a large number of small traders, many of whom are women, lost their goods and cash in a fire in the Gao vegetable market during fighting in February. This trade was essential to allow the poorest households to buy food in the small quantities they were able to afford.”
*Photo: The Sun. Malian troops in full alert.