French counter-terrorism analysts believe that are about 10,000 full-time Islamic terrorists in Africa, about half of them affiliated with al Qaeda and about a third with more radical groups like ISIL. The al Qaeda groups are more established and businesslike. ISIL attracts the more radical people and has benefitted from an influx of ISIL men who escaped from the defeats in Iraq and Syria. The groups native to Africa, like Boko Haram, Al Shabaab and some smaller ones in the Sahel have shared some personnel and are generally hostile to non-African Islamic terrorists. These groups thrive in areas with a weak or nonexistent government, like Libya, Somalia and, for a few years, northern Mali. Many Islamic terrorists are in it for the money, especially the al Qaeda groups. Some are motivated by anger at corruption and mismanagement in local governments. Many just want a job and an opportunity for a stable life.
The Weakest Link
The organizers of the G5 counter-terrorism force are having problems with the Mali contingent. The Mali military has long been a problem because these soldiers were seen, by most Malians, as thugs in uniform rather than a trained, disciplined and effective military force. The problems with the Mali military have always been the key component of whatever national crises developed. This was acknowledged in the wake of the 2012-13 Islamic terrorism crises in the Tuareg north. Despite efforts (foreign cash and trainers) to train a new generation of Mali officers and troops, it did not work, or it did not work enough to make a major difference. Thus the Mali contingent of the G5 force has problems and makes the entire G5 force look bad and undeserving of long-term support.
Trying to persuade donor countries to make a long-term commitment to paying for the G5 force requires examples of G5 success. Donors and supporters have earlier responded to calls for money to get G5 going. The G5 force now has over half a billion dollars in aid pledges but few long-term aid commitments. The reason for that is donors want to see how well the G5 force does in the long term. This is particularly true of the Mali contingent. The G5 troops are supposed to be among the best each nation has but African nations vary quite a lot in the quality of their soldiers. A lot of this has to do with corruption and Mali is worse than the other G5 nations in that respect, especially in the military. It was corruption in the military that triggered the separatists and Islamic terrorist violence in the north and the attempted coup by the military when Mali lost control of the north in 2012. A small force of French troops was sufficient to regain control but it took peacekeepers (troops from other African nations) to maintain control.
Mali troops are still considered poorly trained and led by inadequate (and often corrupt) officers. Mali leaders say they can fix this but they have been saying that about the military and the government in general since 2012 and there has not been a lot of progress. As a result in central and northern Mali French troops and foreign peacekeepers are less likely to be attacked than Mali soldiers. Worse, it is the Mali troops who are most often assigned to guard aid convoys. This gives locals more of an incentive to attack such convoys. Many of the attacks on aid convoys are by bandits or local tribesmen looking for an easy way to make some money. Mali soldiers guarding a convoy not only indicates less dangerous convoy security but also an opportunity to strike back at the hated Mali military.
The regional G5 Sahel Joint Force was seen as a better peacekeeping solution because it consists of the best troops from Sahel nations (Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad) and thus capable of dealing with Islamic terrorism throughout the Sahel. G5 just began operations in early 2018 but so far G5 has demonstrated the ability to get organized but not to make a difference in Mali, the most troublesome Sahel nation at the moment.
The idea for the G5 force has been around since 2015 but it was only by the end of 2016 that the countries involved agreed on the details. This included who would provide what in terms of the 5,000 soldiers and police needed and where they would be based. The G5 force will be stationed in three operational areas along with troops familiar with local conditions. Thus Sahel East would consist of troops from Chad and Niger. Sahel Central would be staffed by troops from Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso while Sahel West would mainly use troops from Mali and Mauritania. Some of the G5 force was operational by the end of 2017 and by early 2018 the G5 force has already taken part in several counter-terror operations, one of them in the area where the borders of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso meet. A successful G5 Force would enable France to shrink and eventually disband the force of 4,000 French troops it has deployed in the Sahel since 2013 and reduce the 13,000 strong UN peacekeeper force in Mali. The recent appearance of ISIL in the area and the October 2017 attack on American Special Forces troops in Niger was related to building the G5 Force. The peacekeepers in Mali are mainly African and mainly stationed in the north and, increasingly central Mali where there is more Islamic terror group activity, not all of it violent. Most of the recent Islamic terrorist violence has been in Mali. One exception was a July 1st clash with Nigerian Boko Haram fighters in southeast Niger near the Nigeria border. This was not unusual as Niger and several other Nigerian neighbors had joined a multi-national force to defeat Boko Haram and had done so. But remnants of Boko Haram survive mainly as heavily armed and ruthless bandits that occasionally stage a suicide bomb attack. Most of these attacks are inside Nigeria but a few occur just across the border in Niger, Cameroon or Chad.
Peacemaking And Peacekeeping
One reason for backing the G5 force was to reduce the casualties the UN peacekeepers are suffering. Mali is the most dangerous peacekeeping operation the UN operates. The UN is losing patience with the peacekeeping effort in Mali. The UN has suffered 104 dead among its Mali peacekeepers since 2013 and 170 peacekeepers and support staff have died in Mali from all causes (including accidents and disease). So far in 2018 nine have been killed.
The 5,000 personnel of the G5 force would go after the armed groups that have caused most of the peacekeeper casualties. Mali has become known as a rough neighborhood, especially for peacekeepers. For the fourth year in a row, Mali has been the most dangerous peacekeeping mission in the world. During 2017 Mali saw 21 peacekeepers and seven civilian support staff killed. That was 39 percent of UN peacekeeper deaths in 2017 for a force that accounts for less than 12 percent of all UN peacekeepers. The Mali peacekeepers (currently 13,000 strong) have suffered more fatalities because, in northern Mali, where most of these deaths occur, there was l0ts of violence since (and before) the peacekeepers arrived in early 2013. The peacekeepers are mainly African and in the last year the combined forces suffered a death rate of about 215 per 100,000 per year (a standard measure of such things.) Compare that to Afghanistan, wherein 2013 the rate (200 per 100,000) was lower for all foreign troops there. That was down from the peak 587 in 2010, which was about what it was during the peak years in Iraq (2004-7). The action in Mali is less intense than in pre-2014 Afghanistan or pre-2011 Iraq but is more than double the rate for peacekeepers worldwide. Total Mali peacekeeper casualties since mid-2013 are over 400 dead and wounded and losses but have been much heavier among the Islamic terrorists. The local pro-government militias also suffer heavier casualties as do the Mali security forces (army and police.)
July 1, 2018: In the north, an Islamic terrorist bomb killed four people and wounded twenty.
June 30, 2018: In central Mali (Koro country in Mopti region) four Mali soldiers died when their vehicle hit a landmine.
June 29, 2018: In the north (Sevare on the Niger River) Islamic terrorists attacked a G5 force headquarters near Sevare, which marks the southern border to northern Mali. South of the river is the Mopti region. The attackers used a car bomb and gunmen. The attack killed two Mali soldiers and a civilian. Two attackers were killed and two captured. JNIM claimed responsibility. Mali soldiers are not well liked in northern or central Mali because most Mali soldiers are from southern Mali where most of the population lives. The majority in the south see some groups in the north (Fulani in central Mali and Tuareg and Arabs in the north) as deserving of (and often receiving) harsh and arbitrary treatment.
June 27, 2018: The UN agreed to keep the 15,000 peacekeepers in Mali for another year but if there is not more progress in Mali by 2019 the peacekeepers may well be gone by 2020.
June 26, 2018: UN peacekeepers accused Mali soldiers belonging to the G5 Force of murdering twelve civilians on May 19 at the in revenge for the death of a Mali soldier and the refusal of locals to provide information. The shooting took place in the north at the weekly Boulkessy cattle market.
June 25, 2018: In the far north, across the border in Algeria, three Islamic terrorists surrendered, with their weapons, to an Algerian army patrol. Since May Algeria has publicized border zones where Islamic terrorists seeking to surrender can cross while armed and not be shot on sight. Islamic terrorists seeking to surrender are advised what to do when they encounter troops. Intelligence indicates there are a growing number of Islamic terrorists in northern Mali who want to get out of the terrorism business. Algeria has about 80,000 troops guarding its 3,000 kilometer long border with Mali and Libya.
June 24, 2018: In central Mali, the increasing violence between Fulani herders and Dogon farmers has led both groups to organize armed militias for protection against raids and interference from Mali soldiers or police. The Fulani have long been the aggressors but the Dogon have been fighting back and raiding Fulani settlements. Over the weekend Dogon raiders killed at least 32 Fulani and another ten Fulani are missing after the Dogon surrounded a village and began killing the unarmed Fulani. In addition to trying to seize Dogon land, the Fulani are also active in most Islamic terrorist groups operating in Mali.
June 20, 2018: In the far north, on the Algerian border, seven Islamic terrorists surrendered, with their weapons, to an Algerian army patrol.
June 13, 2018: The Mali army is accused of murdering civilians in central Mali (Nantaka). Apparently, there were 30 deaths overall, all against unarmed Fulani civilians.