Tomorrow a national election will be held in which 1,141 candidates are running for 147 seats in the National Assembly (parliament). There is hope that a new government will do something about the corruption and bad government. That is unlikely, but most of the 6.5 million eligible voters are expected to vote anyway. In the north the government has not really returned yet. Many southern bureaucrats still refuse to move back north. In part this is because their workplaces (especially schools) were damaged or destroyed by the Islamic terrorists who controlled the area for nearly a year. What the Islamic terrorists didn’t destroy looters did as the Islamic terrorists were being driven out. Rebuilding has been going slowly and there is a lot of crime as well.
In a welcome gesture the Netherlands is sending 380 troops (90 of them commandoes), four AH-64 helicopter gunships, and some UAVs to Mali. All this is much needed in northern Mali, where French troops continue to search for Islamic terrorists. The Dutch troops will stay through the end of 2015. The Dutch will be part of the UN peacekeeping force which becomes operational in January. Currently there are about 5,000 foreign troops in Mali and that is to expand to about 10,000 by mid-2014. Meanwhile, France, with about 2,800 troops in Mali, is continuing to shrink this force and will be down to about a thousand early in 2014. Earlier in the year France had 5,000 troops in Mali.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) has apparently nearly a year of French attacks and an internal split and has taken credit for several recent suicide bomb attacks. Moreover, AQIM is not alone. Some AQIM dissidents went off to found Al Mourabitoun earlier this year. These AQIM dissidents merged with MOJWA (Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, largely composed of black African Islamic radicals and led by Mauritanians) to form Al Mourabitoun.
MOJWA is unique among Islamic terrorist groups because its leadership is black African and the merged unit is led by Arabs. Then there is Islamic terror group Ansar Dine (which controlled Timbuktu in 2012) which is from Mali and led by Tuareg Islamic radicals who are still in the north and operating near Timbuktu and Kidal. Al Mourabitoun appears to be mostly operating outside Mali (in Niger and Libya) but AQIM and Ansari Dine are still in northern Mali and French troops are looking for them.
The Islamic terrorists in northern Mali are suffering from a shortage of competent bomb makers, which was obvious from the crude construction of the terrorist bombs used in the north over the last few months. These bombs often do not go off at all or explode prematurely. This has led to the accidental deaths of several terrorists and the failure of some attacks. There appears to be no shortage of manpower for Islamic terrorist groups and France is pressuring Mali to make (and keep) a satisfactory peace deal with MNLA so that these Tuareg tribesmen can help in the hunt for Islamic terrorists.
MNLA means (in French) “Liberation Army of Azawad.” That is the Tuareg term for their homeland in northern Mali, and until the June 18 agreement its capital was Kidal. The Mali government was upset that MNLA men controlled most of the rural (and very thinly populated) areas in the north for over a year. France is having a hard time convincing black African politicians from the more populous southern Mali that it’s worthwhile making concessions to MNLA. The French point out that the Tuareg rebels have been defeating black African troops from the south for generations and there’s no quick fix for that. The more immediate threat are the Islamic terrorists and Tuareg cooperation is essential for dealing with the likes of AQIM, Al Mourabitoun, and Ansar Dine. The Islamic terrorists are largely Arab and Tuareg and their goal, for all intents and purposes, is to enslave the majority black African population of Mali by imposing a religious dictatorship. Black Africans in general do not want to be ruled by Arabs, who look down on black Africans and have been enslaving and exploiting them for over a thousand years. Many Malians understand what the Arab Islamic terrorists are up to here, but the Mali leadership is distracted by power struggles and getting rich (via corruption). It’s a sad situation with no easy solution.
November 22, 2013: In the capital a gunman fired on a French police advisor as he left his residence. The Frenchman was wounded and his attacker drove away. Attacks like this are rare in the capital, and it’s unclear who the attacker was.
France announced that it had recently killed the second-in-command of Islamic terrorist group
Al Mourabitoun near the northern town of Tessalit. This is a new group, formed when two Islamic terrorist factions merged last August. The new group had already been operating, largely in Niger where it had carried out several daring attacks (including a prison break in June and twin bombings in May). One of the merger partners is an al Qaeda splinter group led by
Mokhtar Belmokhtar (the planner of the January natural gas facility attack in southern Algeria that got 37 workers killed). Belmokhtar has a reputation for always escaping the many efforts to kill or capture him. Belmokhtar was number two or three in the North African al Qaeda organization (
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or AQIM) but formed his own splinter group in late 2012.
November 21, 2013: Mortar shells were fired into the northern city of Gao,
November 20, 2013: Outside the northern town of Kidal, three French soldiers were wounded by a roadside bomb.
November 19, 2013: Near Gao gunmen attacked and killed some kin of a Mali Army general. The general is Tuareg and the attack is believed to be related to disputes within the Tuareg community over cooperating with the Mali government.
November 15, 2013: In the northeast (Menaka) several mortar shells landed near a military camp but there were no casualties. French forces in the northern desert (220 kilometers west of Tessalit) encountered a pickup truck full of weapons and Islamic terrorists. After a short gun battle the terrorists were killed and the French destroyed the weapons and ammunition and continued their night patrol.
November 14, 2013: About fifty MNLA gunmen arrived in Kidal, aboard five trucks. An MNLA leader insisted this was not an attempt to regain control of the town and today was when the MNLA handed back control of several government buildings that it had continued to occupy. Dozens of local Tuareg civilians demonstrated against the handover.
November 8, 2013: Mali soldiers killed three MNLA rebels near the Niger border (100 kilometers east of Menaka). Most MNLA get along with the foreign troops but not with the Mali soldiers, especially those from the south. In this case the MNLA claims the army violated a ceasefire agreement while the army claims that one of their patrols was attacked by bandits. Locals said the violence was part of MNLA resistance to what the rebels call army harassment.
November 4, 2013: In the north (near Menaka) four civilians were killed by a landmine that destroyed their vehicle.
November 2, 2013: Two French radio journalists were kidnapped in the north near Kidal. The two were later found dead. Four days later AQIM claimed that the killings were in retaliation for French operations against Islamic terrorists in the north. Further investigation by the French and MNLA revealed that the key to the kidnapping and murder of the two was a former member of AQIM (Ag Bakabo) who had been expelled from the Islamic terrorist group for stealing money (related to drug smuggling). Ag Bakabo offered to kidnap the two Frenchmen in return for being allowed to rejoin AQIM and get a share of the ransom. But about 20 kilometers outside of Kidal, Ag Bakabo’s vehicle broke down and it was AQIM policy to kill captives if they were in danger of being freed. Ag Bakabo and his three accomplices could walk away from the disabled vehicle but he could not get his captives to the AQIM camp on foot because of the probability of being spotted by the French was too high. So Ag Bakabo killed the two French captives and fled. Ag Bakabo and his fellow kidnappers are still being sought.
November 1, 2013: In the northern city of Gao, thousands of residents protested the inability of the government to improve living conditions.