In Pictures: Orphans of the Sahara

Al Jazeera chronicles the Tuareg struggle for an independent homeland.

The Tuareg are the indigenous people of the Sahara desert. 

They are one of the poorest and most isolated peoples in the world - and one of the most militarised. 

They are an army of the poor in a land of astounding natural wealth; an animal-herding people in a dying world of drought. 

For decades, many Tuareg men have left their homes in search of work in neighbouring countries. Thousands ended up in Libya, as workers and fighters, and many as mercenaries for slain Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. 

In late 2011, after Gaddafi's death, thousands of them returned to their Saharan homeland in Niger and Mali. 

But having lost access to the country that was their only source of livelihood, they came home to find little more than crushing poverty, hunger and drought. 

Barely able to feed their children amidst total state neglect, the men launched a rebellion to found their own country - for which they had already chosen a flag and an old Tuareg name: Azawad. 

But the Tuaregs would not be the only ones to emerge from a collapsing Libya with a lot of guns, and a plan. Al-Qaeda was also preparing for a fight.

To follow the story, watch Al Jazeera's three-part series Orphans of the Sahara