In the last two months French counter-terror efforts in northern Mali have left over forty Islamic terrorists dead. Most of the dead terrorists belonged to the North African al Qaeda organization (
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or AQIM) and its smaller affiliates. Many terrorist bases, and large quantities of weapons, ammo and other equipment have been captured and destroyed. This has prevented the Islamic terrorists in the Sahel from launching any major attacks in over a year. In order to maintain the pressure
France is sending a special force of 3,000 troops to fight Islamic terrorists in the Sahel (actually just Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso). This includes a thousand just in Mali and the rest ready to quickly move to wherever the most Islamic terrorist activity had been detected. The Americans are a junior partners in this, providing satellite and UAV surveillance and other intel services (especially analysis and access to nearly all American data on Islamic terrorist activities in the region). All this is meant to keep the Islamic terrorists in the Sahel weak and disorganized.
There are currently 1,600 French troops in Mali but that will reach a thousand by the end of the year. The UN peacekeeping force (MINUSMA, or Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) which is supposed to have 12,000 personnel but currently has only 7,500 has provided most of the security in the north. African nations are unwilling or unable to come up all the peacekeepers the UN wants. The UN continues to press nations to contribute troops and equipment. So far there are contingents from Bangladesh, Benin, Britain, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Chad, China, Côte d'Ivoire, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Liberia, Mauritania, Nepal, Netherlands, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sweden, Switzerland, Togo, United States and Yemen. Some European countries (like Netherlands) have recently sent helicopters, which are badly needed. The peacekeepers have lost eight dead in the last year. The peacekeepers spend most of their time providing basic security. That involves running nearly a thousand armed patrols a month, which are essential to keep the few roads between towns and cities safe to use and limit the mobility of the remaining Islamic terrorists in area.
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) than in actually suppressing the terrorists. 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 French “direct action” (commando or missile attacks) in Libya, with or without government permission. When and if that happens the French counter-terrorism forces in the Sahel have to be prepared for more Libyan based Islamic terror groups sending men into northern Mali.
The continued lawlessness and economic problems in northern Mali have not prevented most of the refugees from the 2012 Islamic terrorist violence from coming home.
In the last year about 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. Because of these problems there are still over 100,000 refugees who refuse to return home, even though their food and other aid has been cut.
May 8, 2014: In the north (Adrar des Ifoghas Mountains) a French soldier died when his vehicle hit a mine. This is the eighth French soldier to die in Mali since French soldiers moved into the north in January 2013. That’s a loss rate of about 150 per 100,000 troops per year. That’s about half the U.S. rate in Afghanistan during the years (like 2004) with the least activity. The U.S. rate hit a high of 587 dead per 100,000 in Afghanistan. It was a little higher than that during the worst years of the Iraq fighting.
May 7, 2014: In the north (Kidal) an al Qaeda death squad is murdering people suspected of providing information or other assistance to Malian or peacekeeper (particularly French) forces. These assassins have killed at least ten people in the last week and perhaps twice that in the last month. In addition to the murders the Islamic terrorists distribute leaflets warning people not to “collaborate” with the government or the peacekeepers. “Collaborating” means telling the military anything about Islamic terrorist activity. These tips have been particularly useful in foiling terror attacks and killing or capturing Islamic terrorists. Naturally the effort to find these killers is pretty intense but so far the Islamic terrorists involved have avoided detection.
May 6, 2014: Over the last two days troops in southern Libya (Tin-Zaouatine, on the Mali border) have killed at least ten Islamic terrorists caught trying to enter Algeria from Mali. Most of the dead terrorists were foreigners. The interlopers had arrived via the Adrar des Ifoghas Mountains, which are mostly in Mali and have long been a popular area for terrorist bases.
May 2, 2014: In the north (outside Timbuktu) fighting between MNLA
(the main Tuareg rebel group in the north) and Mauritanian Islamic terrorist group
MUJAO (Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa) over the last few days left nine of the terrorists dead and seven captured. MNLA is in the midst of negotiating a peace deal with the Mali government and has been assisting the French since early 2013.
April 30, 2014: 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 terror group
Al Mourabitoun released a statement on the Internet announcing his return to al Qaeda 18 months after he split from that organization.
Belmokhtar is believed to be
operating from a base in southern Libya. Al Mourabitoun was formed in August 2013 when two Islamic terrorist factions merged. The new group has 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 French and American pressure in the Sahel has left Belmokhtar short of cash and prospects, so returning to al Qaeda is a way to remedy those problems. Al Qaeda has always had access to more cash and other resources than most other terrorist organizations and that’s why it remains such a visible player among Islamic terrorists.
April 23, 2014: In the north (Kidal) a UN peacekeeper was wounded by a roadside bomb.
April 22, 2014: Islamic terrorist group
MUJAO announced that it had killed one of the two French civilians believed to be held in northern Mali. MUJAO did not explain exactly why the man was killed, but it was probably because a French patrol or raiding group had come too close to where the victim was being held.