France is particularly concerned about the continuing unrest in Libya and the ability of Islamic terrorists to establish bases and training facilities there. Because of all that, this year there have been several incidents of Islamic terrorists moving into northern Mali from Libya and until the Libyan government establishes some control over the many Islamic terrorists roaming Libya, more will show up. There are also some terrorist bases in Niger, but the government there is more eager than their Libyan counterparts to do something about it. The Libyan government is more concerned about “foreign interference” (in getting rid of Islamic terrorist groups). This is in large part because many Islamic radicals got elected to parliament in Libya and they interfere with any efforts to deal with Islamic terrorist groups in Libya. Yet it’s not just the Western nations that are complaining about this, but all of Libya’s neighbors as well. This is expected to result in some “direct action” (commando or missile attacks) in Libya, with or without government permission. When and if that happens the French counter-terrorism forces in Mali have to be prepared for some Libyan based Islamic terror groups seeking to find refuge in northern Mali.
The Mali government continues to delay starting peace negotiations with the Tuareg rebels in the north. This is becoming an issue in the south because the delay is seen as the reason for continued violence in the north. The government has not been totally unresponsive, having recently freed 19 MNLA
(the main Tuareg rebel group in the north) members from prison and cancelled charges against them. Beyond that the newly elected government is reluctant to start the peace negotiations just yet. That might change eventually as recent opinion polls show a lot more optimism in the south (where 90 percent of the population, most of them black African, live). Down there Malians believe the country is headed in the right direction and that there is now much less threat of Islamic terrorism or civil unrest. People are still concerned about corruption and the economy but are willing to give the new government a chance to show it can make a difference. It may well be that the new government has prioritized the things needed to be taken care of and decided that the unrest in the north was not at the top of the list. With most of the population and economic activity in the south, this seems reasonable. But the longer the government delays talking to the Tuaregs the greater the risk that violence will grow up there. Not to worry, all those peacekeepers up there can handle it, and that doesn’t cost the government down south anything.
People in the north are also optimistic, but that positive attitude is fragile given the continued presence of Islamic terrorists in the north and not much success at rebuilding the economy (wrecked by a year of al Qaeda rule). In the last ten months nearly 200,000 refugees have returned to the north, mostly to Timbuktu and they have found most of their possessions (farm animals and equipment, household goods and anything portable) gone. Foreign aid meant to address this has been slow to reach the farmers and tradesmen who need it most. The main problem is the government. Most government workers fled when al Qaeda took over and most have not returned. Those that have come back are more of a hindrance than a help. The government has always represented corruption, incompetence and obstacles. Some foreign aid groups are trying to get around that, but the government is very hostile to that sort of “foreign interference.”
Many in MNLA want a degree of autonomy for the Tuareg north that would leave more numerous blacks in the south with little say in the Tuareg north. A
utonomy is what the black majority in is not interested in granting. Early in 2014 MNLA walked away from UN arranged peace negotiations because of this. The UN and France point out that the Tuareg (who are related to the ancient Egyptians, not the darker complexioned Bantu peoples of the south) have refused to submit to outside rule for thousands of years and it would be wise to grant them their autonomy and move on. MNLA means (in French) “Liberation Army of Azawad”. That is the Tuareg term for their homeland in northern Mali and until the June 2013 MNLA cease fire deal its capital was Kidal. 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 Mali government is not motivated by this.
The U.S. State Department continues to advise Americans to avoid travel to northern Mali.
April 17, 2014: Acting on a tip French commandos intercepted two pickup trucks heading north to Timbuktu and rescued five Malian aid workers who had been kidnapped February 8th. The ten kidnappers would not surrender and were quickly killed by the French. The five captives were unharmed.
April 15, 2014: The EU (European Union) has established a special training and advisory effort for establishing reliable internal security forces throughout Mali. This is often an impossible goal in Africa where corruption, tribalism and lack of education all work against the creation of efficient police forces. This EU effort will last two years and will be extended only if some progress is evident.
April 14, 2014: Islamic terrorists fired a rocket into the northern city of Gao. There was some damage but no injuries. There was a lot of anxiety because the Islamic terrorists had been largely absent since late 2013. The rocket probably came from some Islamic terrorist group based across the nearby border in Niger.
April 13, 2014: Security officials in Mali and Niger confirmed what many had suspected, that Islamic terrorist leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar (the planner of the January 2013 natural gas facility attack in southern Algeria that got 37 workers killed) of Islamic terrorist group
Al Mourabitoun was alive and operating from a base in southern Libya. Al Mourabitoun was formed in August 2013 when two Islamic terrorist factions merged. The new group had already been detected operating in northern Mali and Niger (where it had carried out several daring attacks, including a prison break in June and twin bombings in May 2013). One faction was an al Qaeda splinter group led by
Belmokhtar who had 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. In November 2013
France announced that it had killed the second-in-command of
Al Mourabitoun near the northern town of Tessalit and was still searching for
Belmokhtar, despite reports that he might have died during an air attack in 2013. The appearance of these reports of Belmokhtar being alive and where he is may be part of an operation to get him to move and possibly confirm his location so an attack can be carried out.
April 12, 2014: Islamic terrorists released a video of one of the
three Algerian diplomats taken captive by Islamic terrorists in Mali in April 2012. This is the first message from the kidnappers since January 2013. Originally seven Algerians were taken but since then three have been released and one killed. Now there is proof that one of the three is still alive. There has been no direct contact with the captors since a French led invasion of northern Mali in January 2013. It was believed the Islamic terrorists holding the Algerians were on the run and it was hoped that the French would find and free them. That has not happened and now the Islamic terrorists holding one of the Algerians feel secure enough to resume demanding ransom. The Algerian government does not want to pay ransom, so as not to encourage more such attacks.
April 11, 2014: The UN continues to have problems getting donations for food aid to northern Mali. The UN says 1.4 million people will need the food this year. Donor nations are reluctant to contribute for African aid efforts because there is so much corruption and banditry involved, which means a lot (sometimes most) of the aid is stolen and never reaches the people who need it. For a long time the UN tried to keep that quiet and simply tried to get as much aid as it could past the thieving officials and bandits. As the extent of the misbehavior became known, donors became reluctant to throw good money after bad. There was more demand for aid globally than there was supply and donors went looking for more productive (less aid stolen) areas. In Africa a major part of the problem is Islamic terrorist groups, who often ban foreign aid completely or demand most of the aid for themselves as a “tax.”
April 10, 2014: Based on a tip French troops 30 kilometers northwest of Timbuktu found a hidden terrorist ammunition cache, containing a dozen mortar shells, 30 rockets and lots of rifle ammo.
April 7, 2014: Islamic terrorists fired four rockets into the northern city of Kidal. The targets appeared to be a French base and a school. Neither was hit and there was no damage or injuries.
April 3, 2014: The Netherlands agreed to send four AH-64 helicopter gunships and three CH-47 transport helicopters to Mali to provide fire support, transportation and medical evacuation for the 5,000 peacekeepers stationed there. Currently peacekeepers have a few of the smaller Tiger gunships and smaller helicopter transports. The peacekeeper force is expanding to 10,000 by the middle of 2014 and the Dutch helicopters will be needed to keep up with transportation needs. The Dutch will send about 700 troops to operate and maintain their helicopters. This Dutch contribution came in large part because of UN calls for such support from the few Western countries that can supply it. NATO countries are the best equipped for this sort of thing.