About Maps and Wars
As some European countries have decided to commit a little bit more assets in support of the French Armed Forces in Mali, time has come to have a closer look at the operations map. A long time ago, General De Gaulle wrote, that Geography drives the history of a country. Well, let's have a look at the operations map of this region of the world.
Why should we have a look at maps? Indeed, having still in mind some pieces of History, I perfectly remember those pictures of field officers first looking at a map before deciding of the scheme of maneuver they would decide of, in order to disrupt the enemy units. This is exactly what the French Armed Forces are remarkably doing in the mountains up there, in Northern Mali.
However, among the scarce news broadcasted by the French MOD, I couldn't find anyone giving me a clue of the area in which their infantrymen are operating.
What could I do?
I went to ESRI Website, which is the renowned producer of ArcGis, a widely used geographical information system, and veery quickly I could get and shortly illustrate a satellite picture of the area, that you can find here below.
Here comes the description:
Bottom Left: Mali. Bottom right: Niger. Top right: Algeria.
The green bean at the top: named on ESRI website as Emetettai valley, where French soldiers have reportedly won a battle. The length of this bean is approximately 50 Km, although for sure I have forgotten some parts to the East and to the West.
For those who have glasses, you can see a light red point to the South. This is the city of Kidal. It's located about 150 Km away from Emetettai Valley.
What conclusions can we draw of such a picture:
-The deployed forces are far from being sufficient to cut all the access roads to and from the so-called Adrar of the Ifoghas, which covers all the central part of the picture.
-The Algerian border is less than 100 Km away from Emetettai valley, so the terrorists can flee easily via Algeria. All the more that borders are difficult to control. From a purely legal point of view, no country can violate the border of another country to pursue its enemies.
-Emetettai Valley is only one of the numerous valleys you can find in the area.
-As this is mountainous, or at least hilly, observation capabilities from the ground are very limited.
-There is obviously no infrastructure (roads, cities...). Therefore French logistic is for sure a tremendous challenge. Everything which is urgent or critical must be airborne, then heliborne.
-Airborne intelligence collection assets are a key factor to the success of the operation, so that empty spaces are covered.
I really do not know how long the French will stay in the area. I can only say one thing: if they succeed in disrupting what seems to be the terrorists' home area, they will deserve all our admiration.
However, one last point: if the French assessment of operations security is that no map is to be displayed, any conscious reader, and moreover any journalist, should look at a map, so that he can decipher the press statements.