Operation Serval timeline

  • Published: 29 January 2013
  • Filed: 30 January 2013
  • One response
A French sniper carries his weapon at the Mali air force base near Bamako, 19 January 2013 (Photo: Eric Gaillard)

A French sniper carries his weapon at the Mali air force base near Bamako, 19 January 2013 (Photo: Eric Gaillard)

On Friday, Jan. 11, Islamic militants occupying northern Mali in West Africa advanced on a key town separating the government-controlled south from the northern part of the country, held by rebels since Spring 2012.

France, Mali’s former colonizer, deployed air and ground forces alongside Malian forces to stop the advance, sparking wider fighting aimed at resolving the year-old conflict. Now the U.S. and European and other West African countries are joining the battle. What follows is a timeline for what the French call “Operation Serval,” updated as more information comes in.

March 22, 2012: Malian Pres. Amadou Toumani Toure is ousted in a coup in the capital of Bamako.

April 2012: Taking advantage of the chaos in the capital, an alliance of northern rebels, including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, captures half the country, including the ancient city of Timbuktu and the administrative center of Gao. The line of demarcation settles around the central town of Kona.

Summer 2012: Islamists in northern Mali impose sharia law, destroy ancient shrines they deem heretical.

June 24, 2012: A U.S. drone strikes terror targets in northern Mali, according to one rumor.

Late 2012: Malian refugees total 150,000.

September 2012: France prepositions Gazelle attack helicopters in Burkina Faso.

Oct. 22, 2012: Paris say it is deploying surveillance drones to Mali.

Dec. 5, 2012: U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous promises intervention … eventually. “Nothing could be done before September, October,” he says. “It won’t be a peace operation. It will be a war operation and that poses difficulties to the U.N.’s way of thinking.”

Jan. 11, 2013: A column of up to 900 rebels in 200 vehicles advances on Kona. French helicopters — possibly including Gazelles, Tigers and Pumas — attack the column, forcing it to retreat. One French chopper pilot dies from small arms fire. French Mirage 2000D, Mirage F-1CR and Rafale jets from Chad and northern France, supported by KC-135 tankers, bomb Gao and other Islamist strongholds. Up to 100 rebels die. French C-160 and chartered An-124 transports airlift ground troops, vehicles and equipment into Bamako, as other French forces arrive by road from Cote d’Ivoire.

Jan. 12, 2013: “The real question is, now what?” says Army Gen. Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Africa Command.

Jan. 14, 2013: Rebels forces counterattack, seizing the town of Diabaly. Defense chiefs from Senegal, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Guinea accelerate plans for a regional intervention force. “I can tell you that in one week, the troops will effectively be on the ground,” mission head Aboudou Toure Cheaka says. Germany and the U.K. pledge logistical support, including German C-160 and British C-17 cargo planes.

Jan. 15, 2013: Paris announces it will triple the intervention force from 800 to 2,500. French ground forces, including armored vehicles, advance towards rebel territory. “We have one objective: To make sure when we leave, when we end this intervention, there is security in Mali, legitimate leaders, an electoral process and the terrorists no longer threaten its territory,” French Pres. Francois Hollande says. Belgium offers support troops and C-130 transport planes. Canada deploys a C-17 airlifter.U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says the Pentagon will “provide whatever assistance it can.”

Jan. 16, 2013: Apparently in retaliation for the Mali campaign, Islamists kill two and kidnap up to a dozen foreign oil workers, including Americans, in Algeria. French ground forces advance on Diabaly.

Jan. 17, 2013: Malian troops have exchanged fire with rebel forces in Kona. Government soldiers deployed to Banamba, 90 miles from the capital, following reports of Islamists nearby. Algerian forces liberated the hostages at the oil facility in Algeria, but some of the captives reportedly died in the fighting. The U.S. Air Force announced it would help transport French troops to Mali.

Jan. 22, 2013: French and Malian forces recapture Diabaly and Douentza. The U.S. airlifts supplies to Bamako aboard C-17s. Chadian and Nigerian troops mass on the Mali border, preparing to intervene on behalf of Bamako.

Jan. 26, 2013: The Mali air war has expanded significantly. According to aviation blogger David Cenciotti, the order of battle includes:

  • France: 4x Rafale, 5x KC-135FR, 1x A310, 1x C-130, 3x C-160, 3x Mirage 2000D, 1x CN235 at N’Djamena, Chad; plus 2x Mirage F1CR, 8x Gazelle, 3x Mirage 2000D, 4x Super Puma, 3x Tiger at Bamako, Mali; 2x Harfang drones at Niamey, Niger; and 5x Atlantique II at Dakar, Senegal
  • Nigeria: 2x Alpha Jet, C-130, Mi-35s
  • Italy: C-130s and 1x KC-767
  • U.K.: 2x C-17, 1x Sentinel
  • C-17s Canada (1) and the U.S. (5)
  • C-130s and other medium transports from Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Spain, The Netherlands and the UAE
  • Charters: An-124, Il-76, An-225

Jan. 27, 2013: Timbuktu and Gao, two of the biggest northern cities, are liberated by French and Malian troops. The U.S. begins aerial refueling of coalition planes.

Jan. 28, 2013: The U.S. admits plans to establish a new drone base in northwest Africa near Mali.

Jan. 29, 2013: The French Foreign Legion has parachuted into northern Mali. The U.K. pledges 330 support troops.

Last updated: 29 January 2013. View updated version.

Source: Offiziere.ch (Switzerland)

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  • Joel Vargas

    I really liked the timeline. The US is not getting in the action right away. France has a lot more to loose.

    In history, we have seen that US intervention in that region has not been very effective. First of all, many of the countries there speak French and have been occupied by the French. They also pose a bigger problem as immigration into Europe may increase the moment these countries have security problems and conflicts. We have seen that in Italy. And no difference in France, Germany, Spain, and Portugal. So it is beneficial for the French to intervene and stay the course.

    The other issue in the horizon is the fact that the terrorists have made their home that region.

    Therefore the French and I am sure the UN will be coming to the aid of Mali and it appears the other countries around.

    Joel Vargas, Assistant Director


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