The EU is taking the lead in trying to bring peace and good government to Mali. Peace means more foreign investment and greater economic growth. Good government means reducing the crippling corruption and improving the quality of government services. The most difficult aspect of that is trying to professionalize the Mali military. The EU has maintained a force of over 500 trainers since 2015 in a continuing effort to improve the skills of the troops. At this point about half the 18,000 Mali military personnel have had some of this training and the assessment of the trainers is that it will take at least ten years of effort to professionalize the military. It takes so long because you have to train and monitor officers and NCOs as they serve for years and advance in rank and experience. It’s the officers who can quickly destroy a well trained and equipped military and it takes a long time to show officers how to avoid the temptation to allow corruption to keep the military weak and unreliable. Corruption in general is the root cause of most economic and political problems in Africa (and worldwide).
The Islamic terrorists remain in Mali and the region but are not strong enough to again take control of any part of Mali. Despite that the Islamic terrorists continue to be disruptive. There were about 200 Islamic terrorist related acts of violence in Mali during 2016, 80 percent of them in the north. The main source of this violence is AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) which was formed in 2007 from several of the 1990s era Algerian groups. AQIM now operates throughout northern and west-central Africa.
Because AQIM leadership still contains a lot of Algerians the Algerian government has been helpful to African nations where AQIM is operating. AQIM now spends most of its time smuggling drugs, people and whatever else pays (like kidnapping Westerners). AQIM carries out or sponsors (with money, weapons and advice) smaller groups to carry out attacks and share the credit. AQIM likes to stay in the headlines. Veteran AQIM leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar is another Algerian who has survived and went on to found and lead AQIM affiliate al Mourabitoun. Belmokhtar has been responsible for many high-profile attacks in Libya, Algeria, Niger and Mali since 2011. He was believed to have been killed in a late November 2016 by a French airstrike in Libya but there has still not been any confirmation and the most recent AQIM attack in Mali mentioned Belmokhtar as one of those responsible. The U.S. has long offered a $5 million reward for information that would lead to the death or capture of Belmokhtar.
Two of the most active AQIM affiliates are in Mali, mainly because the government there has not yet resolved the ethnic feuds that have been a problem since the nation was formed in 1960. The oldest AQIM affiliate in Mali is Ansar Dine which was formed in the north near Timbuktu (because many of its leaders and members came from the area). Ansar Dine was unique in that it was the only Islamic terrorist group from Mali and was formed in 2012 by Tuareg Islamic radicals who were formerly secular rebels. Ansar Dine always saw itself as the only Malian group in AQIM, which many Malians consider a bunch of gangsters, dependent on its relationship with drug gangs (al Qaeda moves the drugs north to the Mediterranean coast) and kidnappers (who hold Europeans for multi-million dollar ransoms). All this cash gave AQIM a lot of power, both to buy weapons and hire locals. After France chased most Islamic terrorists out of the north in 2013 Ansar Dine became the main AQIM representative in Mali because it was not considered foreign and thus able to survive among kinsmen.
In central Mali the FLM (Macina Liberation Front) was created in 2015 with the help, and example, of Ansar Dine. FLM is composed mostly of young Fulani men. The Fulani tribes of central Mali are producing a growing number of recruits for Islamic terrorists. FLM openly identifies with the Fulani (Macina are the local branch of the Fulani). FLM became active in early 2015 and since then has claimed responsibility for a growing number of attacks. It started out with calls for Fulani people to live according to strict Islamic rules. That in turn led to violence against tribal and village leaders who opposed this. That escalated to attacks on businesses and government facilities. FLM considers Ansar Dine their friend and ally mainly because Ansar Dine was inspired by al Qaeda but was always composed of Malians, mainly Tuareg, northern Arabs and some Fulani. Although most Malians are Moslem few want anything to do with Islamic terrorism. But the Fulani have always seen themselves as a people apart, an attitude common with the nomadic peoples from the Sahel (the semi-desert area between the Sahara and the much greener areas to the south). That makes joining FLM more attractive to young men, especially since the Fulani have also been involved with smuggling for a long time and that is seen as an acceptable profession. Another thing that sets the Fulani apart is that still think of themselves as nomadic and thus don’t really believe in borders.
The continued existence of large (altogether more than a thousand) Islamic terrorists in northern and central Mali is the cause of a very noticeable crime wave. This takes the form of more highway robberies (forcing aid convoys to use armed guards), extortion of “taxes” from businesses and other entities seeking immunity from attack and incidents where large (a dozen or more) group of armed men occupy rural villages for several hours, loot the place, kill any government employees or known pro-government (or anti-Islamic terrorist) locals they can find. That is usually followed by a mandatory mass meeting where the locals are lectured on the necessity of supporting the Holy Warriors. Young men are encouraged to join the jihad, which pays well and tolerates bad behavior as long as it is in defense of Islam.
January 18, 2017: In the north (Gao) the AQIM al Mourabitoun faction took credit for a suicide truck bomb attack on a military camp that left at least 60 dead and twice as many wounded. AQIM identified the bomber as a member of FLM and most of the dead were members of pro-government Tuareg militias that AQIM later said were being puniched for making peace with the foreign infidels (non-Moslems).
In central Mali (Segou) five soldiers were killed and two wounded when their vehicle ran over a mine, apparently placed FLM Islamic terrorists.
January 11, 2017: Germany agreed to send four Tiger helicopter gunships and four NH90 transport helicopters to Mali to replace the four AH-64 helicopter gunships and three CH-47 transport helicopters the Dutch sent in late 2014 to provide fire support, transportation and medical evacuation for the 5,000 peacekeepers then in northern Mali. At the time the peacekeepers had a few of the smaller Tiger gunships and smaller helicopter transports and greatly appreciated the Dutch aircraft. The problem is that the Dutch helicopters have proven invaluable and there are now more than twice as many peacekeepers depending on those helicopters. But the Dutch pointed out in early 2016 that the seven helicopters have suffered a lot of wear and tear in Mali and need extensive refurbishment that cannot be carried out in Mali. The UN has been trying to get some other Western nation to step forward with replacements since then and Germany was finally persuaded to step in. Both the Dutch and German peacekeepers in Mali have had to endure harsh living and working conditions as well as the inability of their governments to adequately deal with shortages of all manner of necessary equipment and supplies. At the end of 2016 news media in both countries made an issue of the French being able to adequately support and supply their Mali peacekeepers while the Dutch and German troops were constantly short of essential items. Of course the reason was that the French have always had larger “overseas intervention” forces than most other European countries (with the possible exception of Britain) and had plenty of experience, and military infrastructure, to support operations in remote parts of the world, especially former French colonies in Africa. The Dutch and German governments have thus been persuaded to allocate more resources to keep their peacekeepers competitive with the French. Germany also agreed to increase its Mali force from 650 to 1,000 troops. At the same time the EU (European Union) agreed to continue peacekeeping operations in Mali for another two years (until 2019). That commitment means finding enough EU member nations to volunteer troops and aircraft for service in Mali.
January 10, 2017: In the north (southwest of Gao) French troops found and arrested Mimi Ould Baba Ould Cheick, a known Islamic terrorist wanted for a 2016 Islamic terrorist attack in neighboring Ivory Coast. Cheick is being extradited back to Ivory Coast for trial.
January 4, 2017: In the north (Gao) a local employee of the Red Cross was shot dead while off duty. It was unclear if this was personal or Islamic terrorists.
December 16, 2016: In the south, just across the border in Burkina Faso twelve soldiers were killed and three wounded when a group of about 40 heavily armed men in three trucks and several motorcycles attacked a base twenty kilometers from the Mali border as well as several smaller outposts. The garrison in the main base withdrew until reinforcements could arrive and chase the attackers (who suffered about a dozen casualties) back into Mali. This is the third such attack since mid-2015. Because of violence like this in January 2016 Mali signed an agreement with Burkina Faso to share intelligence on Islamic terrorists as well as coordinate security operations along their mutual border. In response to the latest attack Burkina Faso has sent more troops to its Mali border. The success of the 2013 French-led offensive into northern Mali drove thousands of Islamic terrorists into neighboring countries and that’s when the Islamic terror problem in Burkina Faso went from troublesome to terrible. Burkina Faso also still hosts over 30,000 refugees, nearly all of them from Mali. Burkina Faso is, like Mali, landlocked and has 17 million people (about 20 percent more than Mali). Burkina Faso also lacks the troublesome Tuareg/Arab minority in the north. Because Burkina Faso is south of Mali it also lacks the semi-desert north in Mali. That is where the Tuareg/Arab minority live. Burkina Faso also has more religious diversity with a quarter of the population being Christian and 60 percent Moslem. Moreover the Moslem population consists of several different “schools” of Islam, some of them quite hostile to Sunni Islamic terrorism as practiced by al Qaeda and ISIL.