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Guerilla war looms in Mali

If one were to accept what one reads in the press and hears and sees in the media, the "war" in Mali has been won due the French dispatching their troops there.    All too sadly, if this report in The New York Times is correct, a guerilla war may now be looming in the already war-torn country.

"The battle for Mali is not over. Remnants of the militant forces that once controlled major towns have not simply burrowed into their rugged, mountain hideaways far to the north. They also appear to have taken refuge in smaller villages nearby, essentially pulling back to less-contested ground after the French-led intervention to oust them, residents and experts say.

That infiltration, in a string of neighboring villages along the Niger River, is what enabled last Sunday’s attack in the heart of Gao, a town of about 86,000 whose reconquest was a pivotal part of the French offensive last month. For hours, bullets flew as jihadists from around Gao pinned down French and Malian forces.

Control in the town itself has now been re-established, but Islamist fighters have blended imperceptibly with the local population around Gao. And much of that population, in the isolated villages, looks on them benevolently, say residents and experts who know the area well.

“The jihadists are still in the environs,” a Malian Army commander, Col. El Hajj Ag Gamou, said in a telephone interview from Gao. “They are certainly around. There are small caches of them, in hiding, 40, 80 miles from here.”

Their presence suggests potentially fertile ground for a sustained guerrilla conflict — something the French have said they are determined not to get enmeshed in. Though the lightning-quick French campaign in January succeeded in pushing the Islamists from major towns, it is far from clear how many fighters the French actually eliminated. Estimates of deaths, from both the French and the Malians, have been vague and inconsistent, and the jihadists are evidently still lurking in the shadows."

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