The Malian army has regained control of Kidal, a rebel stronghold in the north since 2014
Moscow congratulated Mali's military government on Wednesday for recapturing the northern town of Kidal, which had been largely under the control of ethnic Tuareg separatists, whom officials have blamed for destabilizing the region.
The Malian army announced on Tuesday that it had regained Kidal following a raid that resulted in heavy losses for armed insurgents, an operation that interim leader Assimi Goita said aimed to restore the West African country's territorial integrity.
"Our mission is not complete," Goita wrote on X (formerly Twitter), confirming the security forces' victory over Tuareg-dominated rebel groups that had controlled Kidal since 2014 after driving out the army.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said the win demonstrates the "impressive growth" in the combat capability of the Malian Armed Forces (FAMa).
"On November 14, the Armed Forces of Mali completely liberated the city of Kidal from rebel Tuareg groups, which over the past ten years remained the main stronghold of anti-government forces. The Russian side congratulates the Malian authorities on this important victory," the ministry said in a statement.
Mali has been fighting an Islamist insurgency since 2012, with major support from the French military, which became involved in 2013 in response to an increase in violence in the country's north. However, France withdrew its troops last year on order of Bamako's coup leaders, who took power in 2020, over alleged failures of France's deployment in the Sahel nation.
The military authorities also gave the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) until December 31 to withdraw its 15,000 peacekeepers.
The evacuation of the stabilization mission, however, has exacerbated tensions in northern Mali since August, with state security forces, rebels, and jihadists competing for control.
Last month, the UN said it was speeding up the withdrawal of peacekeepers from bases in the Kidal region in response to a rapidly deteriorating security situation following a similar action in the town of Ber in August. FaMa reported that seven of its officers were killed in clashes with the rebel coalition while coordinating the UN mission disengagement. Three peacekeepers were also injured when their evacuating convoy was attacked, according to MINUSMA.
Previously, the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), a Tuareg coalition, accused Malian authorities of violating a 2014 Algiers ceasefire and security agreement by attempting to take over UN peacekeeping camps, including those in CMA-controlled territory. The CMA and the Malian government signed the agreement to end a cycle of Tuareg uprisings that had occurred since the country's independence from France in 1960.
The armed groups issued a statement on Tuesday admitting that the military government, which has made regaining territorial sovereignty its mantra, had taken control of Kidal. According to Reuters, a spokesman for the rebel coalition stated that they made a strategic decision to leave the stronghold town, allowing the army to retake it.
Military rulers in Burkina Faso and Niger have congratulated their Malian counterparts on the "liberation of Kidal," which they recognize as a historic milestone in the fight against armed groups in the Sahel region.