December 17, 2018:
The UN and France do not agree on how the local G5 counterterrorism Force should be paid for and used. While the 15,300 UN peacekeepers (mainly from Senegal, Burkina Faso, Chad, Bangladesh and Togo) in Mali each cost $65,000 a year, the 5,000 G5 Force troops get by on $25,000 a year each in foreign aid that is not controlled by the UN. That is in addition to about $91,000 per soldier in startup costs provided by NATO and the EU. Foreign donors provide new equipment and weapons as well as air, intel and training support. The G5 nations provide some of their best troops for what amounts to a rapid reaction counter-terror force. G5 is organized to move around and fight but not far from home (unlike the peacekeepers). The G5 military support comes from NATO, particularly France which has 4,500 counterterrorism troops operating in the Sahel (the semi-desert area stretching across Africa from Senegal to Somalia). Unlike the peacekeepers in Mali (or Congo, Sudan, Somalia or whatever) the G5 troops are local and are largely operating on their own territory. Being part of G5 gives them extra equipment (like radios) and training that enables them to quickly call in other resources (like aerial surveillance, air strikes and French ground troops) as needed. There are other joint forces like this. The most recent and prominent example is the multinational force formed from neighboring nations to deal with Boko Haram Islamic terrorists in northeast Nigeria. What the UN really objects to is the G5 force operating so close to the UN peacekeepers, who have become encumbered with a lot of extra costs and corrupt practices over the years. The UN would rather not discuss this or have mass media even notice how badly UN forces come off in comparison.
The UN prefers to have peacekeepers who can be ordered around by bureaucrats and majority votes of UN delegates back in UN headquarters. The UN strives to offend no one outside the area where the peacekeepers are operating while protecting as few people as possible within the peacekeeper occupied area. The UN wants to be able to say that they are seeking non-violent ways to achieve peace while the G5 troops are protecting their own people with all the means at their disposal. That means French or American airstrikes, which many UN members consider unlawful foreign intervention bordering on being a war crime. France and the G5 nations seem to be ignoring the UN criticisms.
The G5 Sahel Joint Force was formed in 2017 and by late 2018 consisted of seven battalions each with about 550 troops and 100 police. 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 one battalion with Mali and Niger contributing two battalions (because those two nations have the largest number of Islamic terrorists operating within their borders.) Add a few hundred headquarters and support troops and you have a force of 5,000.
While France is the major NATO contributor to the Sahel counterterror effort the U.S. also has a large counterterror force in the region under the control of U.S. Africom (Africa Command). The major American base in Africa is one shared with France in Djibouti (bordering northwest Somalia) but another one is being built in eastern Niger. The U.S. provides a lot of air support in the form of aerial surveillance (including large UAVs and electronic monitoring), air transport and aerial refueling. The American also supply Special Forces for training and other instructors to teach subjects (communications, logistics, medical). So between the G5 Force, the French counterterror force and the American support there are over 10,000 local and foreign troops operating in the Sahel against Islamic terrorists.
Deployment of G5 battalions concentrates on border areas. The eastern contingent consists of two battalions concentrating on the Chad-Niger border. The central contingent has three battalions and covers the borders of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. This is something of a hot spot as border regions go. The western contingent has two battalions covering the Mali-Mauritania border. The major peacekeeper force is the 12,000 strong force in northern Mali. This has been around since 2013 and is considered the most dangerous peacekeeper assignment in the world (with nearly UN personnel 200 dead so far). The peacekeepers spend most of their time patrolling and providing security. The counterterror forces are out looking for a fight. The French counterterrorism force can quickly move to areas where there is the most trouble. That is still Mali, especially the northeast (both sides of the Niger border), the northwest (the Algerian border and the main drug smuggling corridor) and the center (where most of the pro-Islamic terrorism Fulani area).
G5 Force is no instant solution because there is a lot of Islamic terrorist activity in the Sahel but has been criticized for being slow to get going. G5 began operations in early 2018 and so far has demonstrated, in a few instances, 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. 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.
Meanwhile the same problems of corruption and mismanagement that cripple the UN are also the reason why the Mali government has not done much to deal with the shaky economy (over 11 percent unemployment, high inflation and crime rates) and general unrest among Mali voters because of their inability to have effective politicians they can put into office.
The major Islamic terrorist threat in Mali are Fulani Islamic radicals who are, in general, the biggest supporters of JNIM (Jamâ’ah Nusrah al Islâm wal Muslimîn, or Group for the support of Islam and Moslems). This Fulani dominated group was formed in early 2017. In part, this was a reaction to the growing threat from ISIL which is hostile to everyone who is not ISIL and will attack or recruit from the JNIM members AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), Ansar Dine, FLM and al Mourabitoun (an al Qaeda splinter group).
December 15, 2018: The government has decided to reinforce security in the northeast (on the Algerian border) by creating a new border guard force. This will consist of about 350 paramilitary police who will be operating up there sometime in early 2019. That portion of the border is where most of the smuggling takes place and is a major transit point for drug shipments headed to the Mediterranean coast and Europe. AQIM finances its operations by providing security for these shipments from central Africa (where cocaine is flown in from South America) to the Algerian border. The presence of the AQIM gunmen keeps the peacekeepers and Mali security forces occupied while other outlaws (often from local tribes) make life miserable for travelers and civilians in general.
In the north (near Gao), German peacekeepers have had three leased Israeli Heron I UAVs (similar to the American Predator) operational in Mali since early 2017. Germany has extended the Heron leases to 2020 because the Herons in German service (since 2010) have had an availability rate of 98 percent. Since the late 1990s, several hundred Herons have flown over 46,000 hours successfully. Using a variety of payloads the Herons have been used to detect roadside bombs as well as armed opponents. Heron can also check on the status of local civilians and even monitor crop status and the availability of water. The first Heron 1 arrived in Mali during October 2016 and its initial mission lasted nearly six hours. Peacekeepers in Mali have found Israeli UAVs very useful for keeping an eye on large, thinly inhabited, areas. The first one found there were no serious problems operating in the Mali desert-like conditions. Before that these Herons had served with German forces in Afghanistan.
December 12, 2018: In the northeast (outside Menaka), Fulani and Tuareg groups battled each other several times during the last week, leaving at least 40 dead, most of them Tuareg civilians killed by Fulani raiders on motorbikes. Over 300 have died so far in this violence. Fulani are the major component of an ISIL faction that operates on both sides of the nearby Niger border as the ISGS (Islamic State in the Greater Sahara). ISGS is having problems with heavy losses and a shortage of new recruits. 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 has long operated despite very aggressive resistance from local Tuareg tribes. This ISIL franchise is frequently encountered in northeastern Mali on both sides of the Niger border. When ISGS clashes with pro-government Tuareg militias they usually lose so they concentrate on raiding Tuareg civilians, killing as many as possible and fleeing back to their bases in Niger. 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 200 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. To survive ISGS has to maintain a strong presence in western Niger, near the Mali border. Because of that and the continued violence it involves, this year over 50,000 civilians have been driven from their homes in western Niger.
December 11, 2018: The AQIM leader confirmed, via an Internet audio message, the French troops had indeed killed a JNIM leader Almansour Ag Kassam on November 23rd. At first, the Islamic terrorists involved denied Kassam was even at the scene of the French raid. Kassam was a veteran Islamic terrorist in Africa and had risen to a senior position in JNIM. While Kassam can be replaced it will be with someone who has less prestige and respect among the Fulani of central Mali that supports JNIM and supply the volunteers for suicidal terror attacks and unpopular (with most central Mali residents) programs like forcing secular schools to close. In the last few years, JNIM has caused nearly a thousand local schools (serving nearly 300,000 children) to shut down because of the threat of Islamic terrorist attack.
December 5, 2018: In central Mali, fighting continued between Fulani herders and local Dogon farmers that has left about fifteen dead. This violence has become more frequent since late November. In the last few years the rise of Islamic terrorist groups JMIM, with Fulani comprising most of the membership, has caused more friction with the Dogon people.
November 23, 2018: In central Mali (Mopti), a French led raid on a JNIM base left 0ver 30 Islamic terrorists dead, including local JNIM leader Almansour Ag Kassam. Initially, Kassam was only wounded and his followers got him out of the area to a nearby forested area. But overnight Kassam, without much medical attention, died and his followers tried to keep that a secret.