I predict that we’re going to be seeing a lot more in the news about Western military, especially counter-insurgency, operations in Africa in the months ahead – as this continent appears most definitely to be the next front in the ongoing struggle against global Islamist extremism and terrorism.

The 17th Parachute Engineer Regiment jumped into Timbuktu on 29 January 2013.

At the moment of course, the conflict that everyone is watching is the French intervention in Mali.  Following the UN Security Council Resolution 2085 of 20 December 2012, the aim of the operation is to stop and ultimately defeat an aggressive Islamic militant rebellion in the north of Mali, which had begun a push into the center of Mali.  The operation is named after the medium-sized African wild cat species Serval.

In January 2012, following an influx of weapons that occurred after the Libyan civil war, Tuareg tribesmen of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) began a rebellion against Mali’s central government. In April, the MNLA said it had accomplished its goals and called off its offensive against the government, proclaiming the independence of Azawad.

French special forces drive a VPS Panhard light 4×4 tactical vehicle through the city of Gao, Northern Mali on 30 January 2013.

In June 2012, however, the MNLA came into conflict with the Islamist groups Ansar Dine and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa after the Islamist began imposing Sharia in Azawad. By 17 July, MOJWA and Ansar Dine had pushed the MNLA out of all the major cities. On 1 September 2012, the town of Douentza, in the Mopti Region, until then controlled by the Ganda Iso militia, was taken by the MOJWA, and on 28 November 2012, the MNLA was pushed out of Léré, Timbuktu Region, by Ansar Dine.

Nigerian soldiers at the Mali Air Force base near Bamako on 19 January 2013.  Several African nations have committed troops to support the Mali and French forces in action against the radical Islamist rebels.

At the request of the government of Mali, and backed by the authority of UN Security Council Resolution 2085, France officially initiated combat operations against the rebel forces on 11 January 2013.  The two info-graphics below give a good overview of the major forces and equipment deployed, and significant operations in the first week of the conflict.

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Lawrence