Mali: Breaking The Cycle


June 6, 2018: The organizers of the G5 counter-terrorism force are trying to persuade donor countries to make a long-term commitment to paying for the G5 force. Donors and supporters have earlier responded to calls for money to get G5 going. The G5 force now has over half a billion dollars in aid pledges but few long term aid commitments. The reason for that is donors want to see how well the G5 force does in the long term. This is particularly true of the Mali contingent. The G5 troops are supposed to be among the best each nation has but African nations vary quite a lot in the quality of the soldiers they have. A lot of this has to do with corruption and Mali is worse than the other G5 nations in that respect, especially in the military. It was corruption in the military that triggered the separatists and Islamic terrorist violence in the north and the attempted coup by the military when Mali lost control of the north in 2012. A small force of French troops was sufficient to regain control but it took peacekeepers (troops from other African nations) to maintain control. Mali troops are still considered poorly trained and led by inadequate (and often corrupt) officers. Mali leaders say they can fix this but they have been saying that about the military and the government in general since 2012 and there has not been a lot of progress.

The regional G5 Sahel Joint Force was seen as a better peacekeeping solution because it consists of the best troops from Sahel nations (Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad) and this capable of dealing with Islamic terrorism throughout the Sahel. G5 just began operations in early 2018 but so far G5 has demonstrated the ability to get organized and into action. Donors and supporters have responded but only for the short term. 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 several 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 recent 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.

One reason for backing the G5 force is to reduce the casualties the UN peacekeepers are suffering. Mali is the most dangerous peacekeeping operation the UN operates. So far 170 peacekeepers have died in Mali since 2013. The 5,000 personnel of the G5 force would go after the armed groups that have caused most of the peacekeeper casualties. Mali has become known as a rough neighborhood, especially for peacekeepers. For the fourth year in a row, Mali has been the most dangerous peacekeeping mission in the world. During 2017 Mali saw 21 peacekeepers and seven civilian support staff killed. That was 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 more fatalities because in north Mali, where most of these deaths occur, there was l0ts 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 Afghanistan, where in 2013 the rate (200 per 100,000) was lower for all foreign troops there. That was down from the peak 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 Mali peacekeeper casualties since mid-2013 are over 400 dead and wounded and losses but have been much heavier among the Islamic terrorists. The local pro-government militias also suffer heavier casualties as do the Mali security forces (army and police.)

Tribal Tensions

In central Mali the increasing violence between Fulani herders and Dogon farmers has led both groups to organize armed militias for protection against raids. The Fulani have long been the aggressors but the Dogon have been fighting back and raiding Fulani settlements. In addition to trying to seize Dogon land, the Fulani are also active in most Islamic terrorist groups operating in Mali.

June 5, 2018: In the northeast (outside Menaka) local Tuareg militiamen clashed with ISGS (Islamic State in the Greater Sahara) gunmen several times over the last three days. The Tauregs lost three men and another three were wounded. At least six ISGS men were killed and many more wounded or captured. One of those captives was a known senior ISGS commander. The ISGS are considered a major threat for the local Taureg because ISGS, in an effort to intimidate the Taureg into cooperating (or at least not interfering) with the Islamic terrorists have killed dozens of unarmed Taureg in the last few months. This is all about survival for ISGS. Islamic terrorists, even the most extreme ones like ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) need cash because it is simply more efficient to purchase many items (like weapons, ammo, information and sanctuary in areas controlled by local tribes. Northeast Mali (near Gao and the Niger border) is where ISGS, the local branch of ISIL operates. As a result the violence is escalating there. This ISIL franchise is frequently encountered in northeastern Mali on both sides of the Niger border. The ISGS personnel frequently clash with pro-government Tuareg militias and usually lose. It’s not that these ISGS men are not fanatic enough but that the Tuareg know the area well and have lots of experience in irregular warfare. Since March 2018 ISGS has taken very heavy losses as the Tuareg militias worked with a special French counterterrorism operation that included troops from Mali and Niger and spent enough time searching to find several ISGS camps and forcing the Islamic terrorists to fight. So far ISGS has lost over a hundred dead and captured but groups like ISGS don’t surrender but fight harder until they are crushed. ISGS is still up there but in much reduced circumstances.

June 2, 2018: In the south police used violence to break up a demonstration in the capital by those opposed to the current president (Ibrahim Boubakar Keita) running for election again. At least 25 demonstrators were treated at hospitals and there were accusations that some were shot. The government denied the police opened fire as they tried to enforce the ban on such demonstrations. The ban is seen as an effort to curb widespread opposition to the current president, who is 73 and called “the old man.” President Keita has banned opposition parties from campaigning as a security measure but this is seen as a blatant attempt to suppress the opposition and ensure Keita wins the July 29th election. Keita is unpopular because of the continued corruption and bad government and the efforts to suppress political opponents is seen as another example of what is wrong with Mali.

May 31, 2018: In the north, across the border in Algeria, an army patrol found another hidden shipment of weapons and ammo brought across the border from Mali. The weapons were apparently meant for some of the few Islamic terrorists still active in Algeria. Most of the smuggling from Mali into Algeria consists of drugs and high-value commercial goods.

May 29, 2018: Algeria has decided to deport 105 Mali Islamic terrorists it has imprisoned. Most of these men belong to Ansar Dine, an al Qaeda affiliated Islamic terror group. Many Ansar Dine members fled Mali after the French led an 2012 operation to clear Islamic terrorists out of northern Mali and have continued to hunt down Ansar Dine and other Islamic terrorists in Mali and neighboring countries. Algeria was a convenient escape route but the Mali Islamic terrorists found that they were easy to spot and the generally hostile (to illegal migrants and Islamic terrorists) Algerians were quick to report the strangers.

May 19, 2018: In the north (Boulikessi) a man shot a soldier in a marketplace. Other soldiers opened fire towards the attacker and apparently killed over a dozen civilians. It is unclear if the attacker was among the dead. The Mali soldiers involved are assigned to the new G5 force and the incident took place near the Burkina Faso border.

May 18, 2018: In the east, security forces along the Niger border were on alert because of reports that there was another attack on a Fulani village just across the border in Niger. The attackers were on motorcycles and believed to be Tuaregs from Mali. The attack left 17 civilians dead and even more wounded. The Mali Tuareg militias have attacked Fulani villages across the border in Niger frequently. Throughout the region (and as far south as northern Nigeria) Fulani have been active supporters of Islamic terror groups and those across the border in Niger are believed to be supporting ISGS. Fulani living in central Mali were founding members of a local al Qaeda group (FLM) and have belonged to other al Qaeda affiliated Islamic terror groups active in Mali and neighboring countries.

May 9, 2018: In the northeast (outside Menaka) ISGS gunmen killed five people who were riding in a vehicle. The killers then went to a nearby village and killed three more Tuareg civilians.


Article Archive

Mali: Current 2023 2022 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 



Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contribute. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   contribute   Close