Mali: Another Record Breaking Year

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January 25, 2018: The UN is threatening sanctions against individuals and groups in Mali if the government and local leaders in northern Mali don’t implement the 2015 peace treaty that ended the war in the north, but has not yet brought peace. To placate the UN and major donors the government has agreed to work things out with the Tuaregs by the end of March. But promises like that have been made before and always broken. The federal government continues to tolerate corrupt practices which includes stealing a lot of the aid money meant for the north and sending officials up there who demand bribes to get anything done. The UN also insists that presidential elections be held on schedule in July and would prefer that the incumbent kept it legal and not another effort to become president-for-life. The president is also under pressure from the UN to a December 2017 order for police to shut down any unauthorized protests. That meant all protests against government corruption and mismanagement were to be attacked and that has created more popular anger, especially from the suppliers of all that foreign aid.

Tuareg Troubles

The local militias up north, especially the Tuareg ones, continue to sometimes operate like bandits. When called out on that the Tuaregs point out that they don’t have much choice when dealing with government officials from the south. A final peace deal with the rebellious Tuareg in the north was signed in early 2015 and is being observed, sort of. The reality is that the Tuareg separatist coalition CMA (Coordination of Azawad Movements), and the pro-government Tuareg coalition have not resolved all their clan and family disputes. Azawad is the Tuareg term for their homeland in northern Mali (and several other North African nations). The 2015 peace deal ended the Tuareg support for Islamic terrorism, but not the tribal animosities. These local, and often ancient, disagreements and feuds are often not connected with the 2012 rebellion in the north nor the continuing Islamic terrorism problems but they do cause security problems that interfere with rebuilding the economy and much else.

The Tuareg peace deal was stalled for over a year because the black majority in the south did not want to even consider granting as much autonomy as the Tuaregs demanded. The two groups have always been at odds but were only united in the same country by the colonial French in the 19th century. Like most African countries, dividing the nation is not an acceptable option and the colonial borders are considered sacrosanct. The current mess began when France took swift action in January 2013 by leading a military operation to clear Islamic terrorists out of northern Mali. Aided by Chad and a growing number of other African peacekeeping contingents, this effort continues and is somewhat open ended. The French acted because in 2012 Tuareg tribal rebels (with the help of al Qaeda affiliated Islamic terrorists) in northern Mali chased out government forces and declared a separate Tuareg state. The Mali army mutinied (because of lack of support from the corrupt government) down south and took control of the capital. The army soon backed off when neighboring nations threatened to intervene.

The thinly populated northern two-thirds of the country has a population of less than two million, out of 15 million for all of Mali. The north was very poor in the best of times, and over a year of violence there halted tourism (a major source of income, especially in the three major cities up there) and the movement of many goods. Mali still has internal problems (mainly corruption) and continued unrest in the north. National GDP increases but the corruption is still thriving and there is not a lot of evidence nationwide that the economy is getting better.

A lot depends on whether the majority in the south can reduce corruption and deal fairly with the Tuaregs and other minorities (like Arabs) in the north or the restless Fulani in central Mali. The elected Mali government has been back in power since 2013 but appears to be as corrupt as ever and under growing pressure from donor nations to either clean up the corruption or see most of the aid disappear. Meanwhile foreign trainers have only been able to put most current Malian troops through a Western style training course. There are about 7,000 soldiers on active duty and 8,000 reservists. There is still a problem with the quality (and honesty) of the officers who tend to be most influenced by the rampant corruption.

Meanwhile Islamic terrorism is spreading to the more populous south but not because of unrest in the north but because Islamic radicalism is extremely popular with young Moslems these days. You can thank global communications and all that oil money spent on subsidizing hardcore Islam worldwide.

The UN Takes Names

In late 2017 the UN compiled a list of individuals and groups responsible for interfering with the 2015 peace deal for northern Mali. This enables the UN to impose personalized sanctions if it comes to that. The difficulty here is that few of those involved (Islamic terror groups, local clan militia leaders or Mali government officials) are vulnerable to sanctions. But some of those involved are and most of those who are not are considered outlaws and being hunted by local security forces and international counter-terror groups. France sponsored this approach because, well, every little bit helps. Moreover those most vulnerable to these sanctions are local politicians and businessmen whose corrupt practices have long crippled the economy and politics in Mali.

The G5 Force Goes To Work

The G5 Sahel (the semi-desert area south of the desert that stretches across northern Africa) Joint Force is seen as a better peacekeeping solution because it consists of the best troops from Sahel nations (Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad) able to deal with Islamic terrorism throughout the Sahel. 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 two 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 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.

January 24, 2018: In central Mali (Toubakoro) two customs officials were shot dead by two Islamic terrorists riding motorcycles. Police fired back and one of the killers was shot dead while the other sped away.

January 18, 2018: Britain agreed to send three CH-47 (Chinook) transport helicopters to Mali, along with fifty military personnel to operate and maintain them. These will replace the three Dutch CH-47s that were withdrawn after two years because they required refurbishment back in Europe. The smaller transport helicopters the Germans sent to fill in left peacekeepers with noticeably less helicopter support. The CH-47 was large enough and reliable in hot and dusty conditions and enabled troops to quickly get where the enemy was without spending hours on bad roads. That wasted time and led to casualties from vehicle accidents or roadside bombs and ambushes.

January 12, 2018: An ISIL affiliate that has operated in the north (around Gao) since 2011 took credit for the attack yesterday on French troops. Calling itself ISGS (Islamic State in Greater Sahara) this outfit is led by Adnane Abu Walid al Sahrawi, a veteran (since the 1990s) Moroccan Islamic terrorist who joined MUJAO (Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa) in 2011 and was with them when they controlled Gao in 2012. MUJAO (also known as MUJWA) was from neighboring Mauritania, part of AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) and basically a Mauritanian faction of AQIM. The French chased AQIM out of northern Mali in 2013, or at least out of the urban areas. That led al Sahrawi to split from AQIM in 2015 and declare MUJAO part of ISIL. This led to fighting between his faction and AQIM. Then his association with ISIL was confirmed by ISIL in 2016 and he began to carry out attacks in Burkina Faso and recruit more heavily in Mali. To help with this he marries a Fulani woman in 2016 and established a base area in the northern Mali, southwest of Gao near the Burkina Faso border and Niger. IGIS carries on a feud with the pro-government Tuareg militias and took credit for attacking some American troops. Al Sahrawi was always known for his ability to handle foreign media and manipulate them to gain more attention (and thus more recruits and other support).

January 11, 2018: In the northeast (outside Menaka) a suicide car bomber attacked a French patrol. One of the French soldiers in the VAB armored vehicle had to be taken to a hospital but the other two French troops were treated on the scene and went back to work. Further west (near Hombori) three Mali soldiers were wounded by a roadside bomb. In the northwest (outside Timbuktu) a police station was attacked, looted and a policeman kidnapped.

January 10, 2018: The government announced that an additional thousand soldiers were being sent to central Mali in an effort to suppress growing Islamic terrorist activity there. The government asked that some of the French counter-terror forces and UN peacekeepers be sent as well, in addition to some troops from the new G5 force. The foreign troops are in Mali to deal with problems in the north, not in areas farther south. The Mali government is seen as responsible for the growing unrest in central Mali because of corruption and bad government in general. This has prompted the Mali government to pay more attention to the Fulani led Islamic terror activity in central Mali.

January 6, 2018: In the northeast (near the Niger border) three members of a pro-government Tuareg militia were killed by some Islamic terrorists (apparently ISGS) they encountered while patrolling the area. The GATIA Tuareg militia had chased Islamic terrorists out of this area but some remained and fought. The local ISIL franchise is trying to establish a permanent presence in this area.

January 5, 2018: In the northwest (outside Timbuktu) Islamic terrorists released two locals (one a retired Mali soldier) they had kidnapped last July.

January 2, 2018: For the fourth year in a row Mali has been the most dangerous peacekeeping mission in the world. During the previous year 21 peacekeepers and seven civilian support staff were killed in Mali. That is 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 over a hundred dead since 2013. Most of these deaths occurred in the north, where there was a l0t 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 the 2013 rate (200 per 100,000) for all foreign troops in Afghanistan. That was down from 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 peacekeeper casualties since mid-2013 are about 300 dead and wounded and losses have been much heavier among the Islamic terrorists.

December 29, 2017: The prime minister resigned (apparently because of the inability to stem the growing Islamic terrorist activity). The president (Ibrahim Boubacar Keita) is up for reelection in July and quickly (the next day) appointed a former Defense Minister (in 2014) as the new prime minister. Six of the 36 cabinet officers were replaced and the new prime minister apparently has orders to do something about the deteriorating security situation (while keeping the corruption under control, or at least out of sight). The new prime minister is the fifth Keita has appointed since he became president in mid-2013.

December 28, 2017: In central Mali (Mopti) three soldiers were killed (and several wounded) by a landmine planted near the Burkina Faso border.

 

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