In two communiqués issued on January 28, 2013, the MNLA announced that it had regained control of towns in Azawad: Kidal, Tessalit, In-Khalil, Anefis, Tinzaouaten, Tessit, and Talatayt. The organization also denied claims by the Islamic Movement of Azawad (MIA), which recently split off from Ansar Al-Din, that it controls Kidal. The leading Azawadi media outlet, Toumast Press, confirms that the MNLA is holding the towns.
According to the communiqués, signed by MLNA spokesman and by CTEA communication minister Mossa Ag Attaher, the organization's military operation to recapture the towns was launched on January 26, 2013 by MLNA chief of staff and CTEA defense minister Colonel Ag Najim. The first city to be retaken was Tinzaouaten, in the Kidal region near the Algerian border (where the MLNA recently held a congress). Then a contingent of twenty vehicles was dispatched to Kidal, which was recaptured on the evening of January 28 without a single shot being fired. The rest of the towns soon followed, including Tessalit in northern Azawad, with its strategic airport. CTEA foreign affairs minister Ibrahim Ag Mohamed Assaleh noted that since the start of the French military operation, most of the jihadis in the Kidal region had retreated into the Teghar-gharet mountains northwest of the city, and that other armed jihadis are hiding in the Gao area.
The communiqués explain that the MNLA acted urgently in order to ensure the safety of Azawadi property and lives, considering the serious danger posed by the return of the Malian army, which is following the French army. The MLNA also reiterates its offer to assist in the fight against the jihadis, and its request that France coordinate its operations with the MLNA.
In addition, the organization stresses its willingness to renew negotiations with Mali, with an eye to forming a Mali-Azawad federation, as a solution to the Azawad conflict. This indicates that in the absence of international political support, the MNLA is now willing to settle for less than complete independence for Azawad, at least for now.
The following are translated excerpts from the two communiqués, which were published in French on the MNLA's official website:
"Clarification of the situation in Azawad:
"Today, January 28, 2013, the MNLA drove the terrorists out of several towns in Azawad.
"The MNLA is fully engaged in the fight against the terrorist organizations in Azawad.
"The MNLA asks France to establish mechanisms for coordinating [with it], so that it can fight terrorism alongside the [French] military operation...
"The MNLA... asks to renew negotiations regarding a Malian federation, with an eye to attaining a permanent solution to the Mali-Azawad conflict."
Colonel Ag Najim, CTEA Chargé of Defense and of Military Relations. Image source: Toumast Press
"...The towns of Kidal, Tessalit, Léré, In-Khalil, Anefis, Tinzaouaten, Tessit and Talatayt are now under the control of the MLNA, which decided to intervene urgently in these localities in order to ensure the safety of property and, more importantly, the security of the population, considering the serious danger posed by the return of the Malian army, which is following behind the French army. We have undertaken to protect the civilians against the criminal acts of the Malian army, which has always been known for its massacres of defenseless Azawadis.
"These [atrocities] are now recurring as part of the French army's Operation Serval. Since the start of the French operation, which is aimed at occupying Azawad for the benefit of the 'Malian authorities', more than 100 people have been harmed in ethnic reprisals. The Malian army and its [Gandakoy and Ganda Iso] militias have launched a hunt for [Azawadi] Tuaregs, Peuhls, Songhays and Arabs. The MNLA cannot accept that the people of Azawad should be exposed to Malian retaliation. For this reason, it has undertaken the full responsibility for securing the cities under its control and protecting the civilian population of Azawad.
"At the same time, to clarify its objectives, the MNLA reminds that it is not seeking a confrontation with the ECOWAS forces or with the French army, even though [the French army] is directing the operations for the occupation of Azawad...
"The MNLA asks the international community to witness its commitment to fighting international terrorism, and reiterates once again its full intention to participate, alongside the French army and ECOWAS, in the struggle against terrorism. However, since the French forces are unable to protect the civilian population from Malian violence, and while a political and judicial solution to the Azawad problem remains pending, the MNLA has undertaken to protect the abovementioned cities, in order to guaranteeing the safety of the population...
"The MNLA reminds France of its responsibilities concerning the safety and protection of Azawadi populations living under Malian rule, which are exposed to violence and reprisals by the Malian army."
 Toumast Press, January 28, 2013
 The Conseil de Transition de l'Etat de l'Azawad (State of Azawad Transitional Council) is a 28-member interim government formed by the MLNA in June 2012.
 RFI (France), January 29, 2013.
 Only after the communiqué was published did the MNLA discover that Colonel Komo Ag Minini had betrayed the movement. Several days previously, Ag Minini announced that he had left Ansar Al-Din to join the MNLA and offered the MNLA his help to regain control of Léré – but in reality, he left Azawad for Mauritania, where he is seeking asylum. Hence, no MNLA presence remained in Léré.