Kidal has served as a stronghold for the Tuareg, a prominent rebel group deeply entwined in Mali’s enduring political and security crises.
The military, reportedly aided by mercenaries from the Wagner Group, engaged in a three-day battle to reclaim Kidal. Despite the success in retaking the town, the head of Mali’s junta, Col Assimi Goita, emphasized that the mission was not yet complete. He reiterated that the primary objective was to safeguard the country’s territorial integrity and called on civilians in Kidal to remain calm.
The alliance known as the Permanent Strategic Framework (CSP), predominantly composed of Tuareg armed groups, announced that they had vacated Kidal “for strategic reasons,” according to a statement reported by AFP. The statement also emphasized that the fight would continue.
On Monday, the Malian army reported that its advance to Kidal had encountered only “a series of low-intensity skirmishes” with what they described as “the alliance of terrorist armed groups.”
Over a decade ago, Mali’s central government lost control of a significant portion of the northern region due to a Tuareg rebellion initially driven by a demand for a separate nation. This situation was further complicated by the involvement of Islamist militants, resulting in ongoing instability and three coups since 2012.
In a 2015 agreement, it was stipulated that the mostly Tuareg separatists would be integrated into the Malian army, and control of Kidal would be transferred to the Malian government. However, neither of these provisions was implemented.
From 2013, French troops supported the Malian government in its battle against Islamist militants. However, the failure to address the underlying issues led to the rejection of French assistance by the current military leadership, with the last French soldiers departing in 2022.
Subsequently, the junta sought the aid of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, although the presence of these fighters has not been officially acknowledged by the authorities.
Meanwhile, the UN peacekeeping mission is also withdrawing from Mali, creating a power vacuum that rebels and Islamist fighters are attempting to exploit by seizing vacated bases.