Mali: Establishing Priorities


October 25, 2018: Despite continued pressure from foreign donors (especially France and the United States) the recently reelected Mali president continues to tolerate or encourage the corrupt behavior that keeps the barren north impoverished and angry. That, in turn, enables the Islamic terror groups to continue operating in the north and spreading to central Mali, which is already suffering from tribal disputes between nomadic herders and local farmers. The government makes gestures but does nothing substantial. The government continues to be focused on plundering the economy and foreign aid. A major problem in the north is government refusal to implement the terms of the 2015 peace deal with separatist Tuareg tribes. Failure to do so caused more of those tribes to go rogue and be nothing but trouble for the government and the peacekeepers. The only thing that keeps those Tuareg tribes in line are the peacekeepers and especially the French counterterrorism force. If the Mali government can’t get past its own corruption and prejudice (against Tuaregs and Arabs up north) then there will be unspecified but definitely punitive consequences. The corruption and mismanagement by Mali government officials is what triggered the 2012 rebellion and subsequent army coup against the government of corrupt president Amadou Toumani Toure (who fled the country within a month). After that March-April 2012 revolution government finances were scrutinized and it was found that Toure had managed to steal or waste $261 million in the two years before he fled. The high level of corruption in the Toure government was one reason why he was overthrown by the military, who knew that he and his cronies had stolen a lot of money intended for the soldiers stationed up north. Toure had been in power since the 1990s and was long known for being extremely corrupt. While a new government was technically opposed to corruption the economy much of the government was still seen as controlled by the wealthy families and prominent politicians who were “deposed” from power in 2012. Many Malians believe that the core problem is the endemic corruption that never seems to go away. Toure along with his predecessors and successors openly pledged to do something about the corruption. Toure actually did and was much more effective than his very corrupt and brutal predecessors. But in absolute terms, Toure was corrupt because he believed that was how you got things done in Mali. Many prominent Malians still believe that. But the current president, the one that that succeeded Toure (after the army was persuaded to back off so elections could be held) is repeating history not changing it.

The European and African countries providing the peacekeepers (and economic aid) are also losing patience. Yet the Western and neighboring nations cannot ignore the chaos in the north because if it is not kept under control northern Mali becomes a sanctuary for drug gangs, smugglers and Islamic terrorists who run a lot of those criminal operations and are sustained by the cash earned. The G5 Sahel Joint Force was formed in 2017 to deal with the Islamic terror groups but is also having problems with corruption, coordination and poor leadership. G5 Force was designed to deal with terrorism in the semi-desert area between well-watered central Africa and the Sahara (and other North African deserts). The five Sahel nations (Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad) each contributed troops best able to deal with the threats throughout the Sahel. That is no instant solution because there is a lot of Islamic terrorist activity in the Sahel. G5 began operations in early 2018 and so far has demonstrated the ability to move and fight and make a difference. Mali is still the most troublesome Sahel nation but also has the most outside assistance, including a peacekeeping force along with a separate French counter-terror force that also covers much of the Sahel alongside the G5 force. The Mali contingent of the G5 is considered the least capable and that has to be taken into account while the training program for the Mali military slowly improves the quality of leadership and troop reliability. With Mali secured by all these foreign troops, the G5 has been able to deal with Islamic terror problems elsewhere, especially Burkina Faso and Niger. But there have been administrative and coordination problems. Mali is the most corrupt of the Sahel counties not the only corrupt nation in the region.

The G5 force consists of 5,000 soldiers and police that are stationed in three operational areas along with troops familiar with local conditions. Thus Sahel East consists of troops from Chad and Niger. Sahel Central is staffed by troops from Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso while Sahel West uses troops from Mali and Mauritania. Some of the G5 force was operational by the end of 2017 and by early 2018 the G5 force had already taken part in several counter-terror operations, one of them in the area where the borders of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso meet. The G5 troops have done well when fighting Islamic terrorists but most of the time G5 personnel are either searching for Islamic terrorists or back at their bases training and waiting to get new or replacement equipment or, in the worst cases, to get paid and fed in a timely manner.

The Islamic terrorist violence continues with most of the casualties caused by Islamic terrorist landmines and roadside bombs. So far this year there are 10-16 of these incidents a month with two-thirds taking place in the thinly populated north and recently in more densely populated (because it is just south of the Niger River) central Mali. There are a smaller number of incidents involving gunfire and mortar attacks. What most of this violence seeks to do is control key roads and prevent traffic from moving through unless they pay the Islamic terrorists. That means aid shipments are plundered or blocked entirely. The government corruption enriches the senior officials and makes it more difficult for locals to fight the Islamic terrorists and criminal gangs. The central government is content to ignore the problems up north because over 80 percent of the population is in the south and largely unaffected by the Islamic terrorist or tribal feuds (instigated by the Fulani, who are also active in central Mali Islamic terrorism). Most of the victims in all this are civilians in the north and parts of central Mali. So far this year over 500 civilians have died because of the Islamic terrorist and tribal violence and that is the deaths than the security forces and Islamic terrorists suffered.

October 22, 2018: The leader of JNIM (the coalition of Islamic terror groups based in Mali) released a video in which he called on the pro-government militias of northern Mali to turn against the government. This was mainly directed against the Taureg tribes and will have little impact because the Tuareg despise the JNIM because it is dominated by sub-Saharan black Africans (especially Fulani) who are the majority in Mali and have always treated the Tuareg (who are ethnically related to the North African Berbers).

October 16, 2018: In the north (200 kilometers southwest of Gao) an army patrol was attacked by about fifty Islamic terrorists. French troops with the patrol called for air support (helicopter gunships and fighter-bombers) came in shifts to pin and pummel the enemy. Suspecting that such a large force standing and fighting was protecting something the French sent in commandos to reinforce the Mali army soldiers and with that, the Islamic terrorists retreated to the forest behind them but did not stay long because the aircraft and commandos were tracking them. Soon the pursuing troops found a major camp with one dead body and lots of vehicles and equipment. The Islamic terrorists had suffered about twenty dead and wounded and apparently dispersed and retreated further into the forest. The camp was the base for Abdul Hakim al Sahrawi, the local leader of AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb). This base also contained a bomb workshop and was apparently where many bomb attacks were organized.

October 15, 2018: In central Mali, there were two incidents. Outside Tenenkou 11 people were shot dead by men on motorbikes. This was believed to be connected to the violence between nomadic Fulani herders and local Dogon farmers. Elsewhere in the area (outside Menaka) and civilian was killed and two wounded by an Islamic terrorists landmine in a road.

October 11, 2018: In central Mali, near the Burkina Faso border, an army vehicle hit a landmine, leaving three soldiers dead and four wounded.

September 29, 2018: In the northeast (outside Menaka) Fulani and Tuareg groups battled each other over the last two days, leaving at least 25 dead. Over 200 have died so far in this violence.

September 27, 2018: In the northeast (outside Menaka) 120 French troops parachuted into an area near the Niger border where Islamic terrorists have long been active. Other French and Mali troops came into the area by road and surprised several groups of Islamic terrorists. Arrests were made and weapons seized. The most prominent Islamic terror group in this areas is the ISGS (Islamic State in the Greater Sahara). ISGS is still seeking revenge because French forces killed their leader in late August. ISGS is having problems and concentrating on survival. ISGS, like most 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 and these Islamic extremists do not get along with the local Tuareg tribes. 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 150 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. The fact that this recent rocket attack was the only violence up there this month attests to that. The combined airborne/air assault was meant to weaken, and demoralize, the ISGS and it apparently did. In the weeks following this operation, there was little ISGS activity.

Elsewhere in the area two army vehicles were hit with a roadside bomb near the Niger border leaving eight dead.

September 25, 2018: In the northeast (outside Menaka) Fulani gunmen on motorbikes attacked a Tuareg village and killed 27 civilians. The attackers belonged to an Islamic terror group and their victims belonged to a pro-government group.




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