The United States has condemned the attacks by the NMLA and called for talks to end the crisis. The US has a lot invested in Mali. Millions of dollars of US aid money is spent in Mali every year and on top of this, Mali is exactly the sort democracy the US would like to see more of in Africa.
Mali is a key US partner in counter terrorism efforts in West Africa. The militant Islamic group Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, also has bases in the north of Mali. Already one major US-run counter terrorism training exercise has had to be delayed because of the fighting with the Tuareg rebels.
It is the presence of these two distinct militant movements – the separatist Tuaregs and the radical Islamist AQIM – that has often confused the outside world, says Barbara Worley, an anthropologist at the University of Massachusetts in Boston who has been studying Tuareg society since the 1970s. But there is nothing to suggest that these two distinct movements are coordinating their activities against the Malian government.
“The Tuareg generally practice a moderate form of Islam and reject any form of extremism,” Ms. Worley says.
“What they want is to govern themselves and they want more to see more development in the area they see as traditionally belonging to them.”
But the Malian government has accused the Tuareg of fighting the bloodiest battle so far in the rebellion alongside fighters from AQIM. Although Mali has not said there is an ongoing link between the two groups, Mali says that AQIM militants fought with the NMLA around the town of Aguelhok. The government says dozens of soldiers in Aguelhok were killed on Jan. 24. It is an accusation that the NMLA deny.