A myriad armed groups in northern Mali

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A soldier of the High Council for the Unity of Azawad sits in his quarters on July 27, in Kidal, northern Mali

Northern Mali is a vast desert region controlled by a patchwork of armed groups loyal to the government or opposed to it, with differing goals and shifting alliances. In 2012, the area was dominated by jihadist militants linked to Al-Qaeda who routed Malian army troops with help from Tuareg rebels, before shunting the Tuareg aside. An international military campaign then routed the Islamists from many areas but the Malian government still does not control much of its northern territory.

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