On Tuesday, October 31st, separatist rebels in Mali’s northern region made a bold move by claiming control over a recently vacated United Nations base in the strategic town of Kidal. This significant development comes as the UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSMA, accelerates its withdrawal amidst a surge in violence, leaving behind a power vacuum that the Tuareg rebels were quick to fill.
The departure of MINUSMA, which had been stationed in Mali since 2012 following an Islamist militant takeover, has been fraught with challenges. The mission was forced to destroy sensitive equipment to prevent it from falling into insurgent hands, a decision that underscores the precarious security situation in the region. Mali’s military junta, which took power in 2020, had ordered the decade-old UN mission to leave, souring relations with international allies and complicating the withdrawal process.
As the UN convoy departed, the Permanent Strategic Framework (CSP) – a Tuareg-dominated alliance of armed groups – announced their control over areas abandoned by MINUSMA in Kidal. This assertion of control could lead to increased tensions and a potential showdown with the Malian army, which is keen to reassert sovereignty over the region.
The Kidal base is the third and last to be evacuated by MINUSMA in the region, following previous withdrawals from Tessalit and Aguelhok. The move has raised questions about the future stability of Mali, as the Tuareg rebels, who had previously agreed to a ceasefire and peace deal with the government, have resumed hostilities in anticipation of the UN’s departure.
Security analysts warn that the Malian state could face collapse, further destabilizing a region where insurgents with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State are gaining ground. The situation in Kidal, a historical stronghold of the Tuareg rebellion, is particularly volatile, with the Malian army suffering defeats in the area between 2012 and 2014.
The UN’s mission in Mali has been marked by persistent violence, with thousands of civilian deaths and more than 170 peacekeepers killed in combat, making it the deadliest mission in UN history. The recent developments in Kidal serve as a stark reminder of the ongoing challenges facing Mali and the broader Sahel region.
As the UN’s deadline for complete withdrawal approaches on December 31, the international community watches with concern, hoping that the departure does not precipitate further chaos in an already tumultuous landscape.