Mali: Withdrawal and Relapse


May 12, 2021: The Islamic terrorist violence grinds on with the continuing counterterrorism efforts having a noticeable impact. The problem is that the Islamic terrorists and tribal feuds are not going away, nor are the majority of Malians who are increasingly fed up with their elected and unelected leaders.

Another example of how the frustration increases is the disappointing performance of the CNT (National Transitional Council), which was formed after the August 2020 coup ejected a corrupt president but failed to establish a military government. Instead, the CNT , an interim (temporary) government was organized, at the insistence of local politicians and major foreign aid donors. The CNT has until March 2022 to organize new elections and disappear. The CNT is composed of 121 members generally agreed to represent the Mali population and institutions. The CNT elected a president and vice-president who are both army colonels who were not part of the coup. The CNT serves as a temporary legislative group to determine and approve measures required to maintain order and organize new the 2022 elections. The CNT has already failed to deliver during its first eight months in power. The most recent issue is the failure of the CNT to revive corruption investigations and prosecutions of military and political leaders that foreign aid donors insisted on if Mali wanted to keep receiving aid. Despite the importance of acting on this issue the CNT has produced only excuses. That indicates deals are being made for the accused to buy their way out of punishment for corruption they are apparently guilty of. It takes time to fabricate a plausible reason to drop the prosecution.

There was a similar furor b ack in February when the CNT angered France by insisting it would negotiate with some of the local Islamic terror groups in order to make possible elections in early 2022. France pointed out that Islamic terrorists consider negotiations an acceptable way to deceive your enemies because their opponents will feel obliged to comply with any agreement while a defender of Islam (which is what most Islamic terrorists consider themselves) will violate any agreement when it is most advantageous for them. The CNT government believes that this deplorable Islamic terror group track record of exploiting agreements would not apply here because the CNT wants to address the non-religious grievances of Islamic terrorists in central Mali, where the violence is basically about economic disputes between the aggressive Fulani and other tribes.

French criticism could not be ignored as France is the backbone of foreign counter-terrorism and peacekeeping efforts as well as foreign aid in general. France wants the CNT government to concentrate on reducing the rampant corruption in government. This is what most Mali voters see as the primary problem. Many of those who have turned to Islamic terrorism agree. The CNT was forced to agree with the French but since March there has been no progress in dealing with the corruption.

When faced with this pressure a favorite ploy of corrupt African politicians is to blame foreigners for all the problems the local politicians have caused. The corruption is perpetuated because senior politicians share the looted aid with their followers and especially members of their clan or tribe.

Most Malians have come to realize that accepting these excuses just perpetuates the corruption problem. Many members of the CNT realize that but they also feel some very up close and personal pressure from their key supporters, who are often clan 0r tribal elders, who do not want to lose the income corruption provides. This has always been a problem especially in Africa, where tribal identity often supersedes any national loyalty and dedication to the common good. It is easier to agree that corruption is a major problem than it is to actually do something about it.

May 7, 2021: In central Mali (Mopti) three soldiers died and six were wounded when their convoy was hit by a roadside bomb. Many Islamic terrorist groups are active in the area and attacks on convoys are frequent.

May 6, 2021: A video of a French reporter, who had been kidnapped a month ago in the northern city of Gao, showed up online. The French hostage pleaded for a ransom to be paid, otherwise he would be killed. News of the April kidnapping had been kept quiet in the hopes that the hostage could be quickly rescued. Currently there are six Westerners being held for ransom in Mali or neighboring countries, several of them for five or six years. It takes longer to negotiate an illegal ransom and the Islamic terrorists recognize this.

While these negotiations take longer, they still produce results. Those who arrange the ransoms often have to indicate which local politicians have to be bribed to make the deal possible. For example, at the end of 2020, across the northern border in Algeria, security forces seized $100,000 that was traced to the $10 million ransom recently paid in Mali to get four hostages released. In Algeria the ransom cash seized was being held by known Islamic terrorist supporters. When Algerian officials found out about the large ransom, they warned that it would mean more terrorist activity in Algeria and that happened. Southern Algeria has long been the scene of Islamic terrorist activity.

Algeria joined other neighbors of Mali and condemned the payment of ransom for the October release of three Europeans and a prominent Mali politician. The Mali government does not deny that it released 207 imprisoned Islamic terrorists as part of the deal but the suspected payment of over $10 million was officially denied and the cash allegedly came from European sources.

Ransoms give Islamic terrorists in Africa even more incentive to kidnap foreigners. The ransoms paid to al Qaeda (over $100 million since 2003) have been a major factor of the continued existence of al Qaeda in general and especially AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) in Africa. Most Western governments no longer pay ransoms because they have come to understand that this only makes their citizens, especially when overseas, more likely to be kidnapped. As an alternative the Islamic terrorists will sometimes try to get a swap (for a jailed Islamic terrorist) deal. Making a video of the hostage being killed, usually by beheading, is also a possibility but this has been shown to increase the efforts to track down and kill the kidnappers. These videos still get made, but not usually in the Sahel where the Islamic terrorists are more concerned about the money. AQIM in particular was always more mercenary, and quite good at it. But it is a lot more difficult to get multi-million dollar ransoms these days because it is not only illegal but frowned upon globally and to be done it must be very clandestine. More difficult but not impossible and more effort is made to conceal where the cash came from. During the last eight years France had developed and led a regional effort to find and rescue hostages. This has made it more difficult, and expensive, to hold a hostage until a deal can be made. The Islamic terrorists have access to professional middlemen, most of them based in the UAE, who have contacts throughout the region, including northern Africa, to broker these deals, for a percentage if they are successful in delivering the cash to the kidnappers. These hostage brokers got a major boost when the Somali pirates began seizing ships and crew in 2005 and anchored them off a small Somali port that the pirates, or a partner (warlord) controlled. This business flourished for seven years until an international naval force shut it down. By then many gangsters and Islamic terrorist leaders had phone numbers they could call to contact a broker with a reputation for getting the job done.

Many of the Mali hostages are held in Islamic terrorist camps in the remote desert mountains near the Mali-Algerian border. Algeria cooperates with the French and allows French aircraft, (often UAVs) to patrol the border area and share findings with Algeria, which often allowed French warplanes to bomb some of these camps. Otherwise, Algeria will send experienced troops to quietly surround and raid the camp. French commandos will do the same for camps found on the Mali side of the border, where they also carry out a lot of ground and air-searches for camps where hostages are held. As a result of all this activity the number of Western hostages being held in the area has declined by more than half since 2013. Despite the risk, journalists and other foreigners still operate in the area. Many are protected by locals they are performing useful (usually medical or educational) functions and believe they are protected. Many are, but the Islamic terrorists are always on the lookout for an opportunity. When a Westerners is taken local and French security forces will go to the area and trying to arrange a quick, and ransom-free, release. The effort is often cut short when the kidnappers get impatient and go public with a “proof-of-life” video of the hostage, usually pleading for a ransom. This increases efforts to find and rescue the hostage, which usually means many of the kidnappers are killed, and sometimes the hostage as well. The kidnapping for cash is too profitable for the Islamic terrorists to give it up entirely.

May 5, 2021: In the north (near Gao) German peacekeepers are receiving a fourth leased Israeli Heron I UAV (similar to the American Predator). With four of these UAVs one, can be in the air 24/7. There have been three Herons operational in Mali since early 2017. Germany 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 48,000 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.

May 1, 2021: In the northeast (south of Gao) in the tri-border area were the borders of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso meet, there was a terrorist ambush just across the border in Niger that left at sixteen Niger soldiers dead, one missing and six wounded. The soldiers were part of an effort to find and eliminate the Islamic terrorists who attacked three villages in the area a month ago and killed 141 civilians while they looted three villages. These raids are also meant to intimidate local civilians into not cooperating with the security forces.

Most Islamic terrorist violence has been the tri-border area were the Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso borders meet. The Mali portion of the tri-border area was the original hot spot for Islamic terrorism in central Africa, predating the rapid growth, and decline of Boko Haram violence in northeast Nigeria between 2013 and 2016. Many Islamic terror groups prefer the tri-border area because they can escape a major counterterror operation in one country by just crossing the border. This has led the three nations to coordinate their counterterrorism efforts in this area. Mali has an advantage as they have the assistance of over 12,000 peacekeepers plus the 5,100 French counterterrorism troops who operate throughout the region. The French helped form a similar equivalent, the 5,000 strong G5 force. This is a local auxiliary to the French Sahel counterterrorism force. G5 troops are supplied by Mali and four neighboring countries while the EU (European Union) supplies millions of dollars a year to provide the G5 troops with additional equipment, weapons, training and supplements to their pay. This enables the French force to operate wherever it detects the presence of Islamic terrorists. The French first allocate a lot of intelligence and aerial surveillance efforts to the Islamic terror groups they locate. This enables the French to identify key leaders (for combat and support functions) and where they are. That information makes it possible for the French to kill or capture a lot of these key personnel. As counter-terror campaigns since the 1990s have demonstrated, this approach weakens and often destroys Islamic terror groups. The inability of local Islamic terrorists operating in or near Mali to carry out large attacks or anything at all in Europe is proof of that. Leave such groups alone that the quantity and quality of attacks will increase.

April 26, 2021: In central Mali (Alatona, near the Mauritanian border) a joint French-Mali operation tracked down an Islamic terrorist group that had staged attacks in the area but were successfully tracked and confronted today. Two trucks were destroyed and 26 Islamic terrorists killed or captured. Captives are preferred because interrogation often yields useful data about Islamic terrorist operations in the area. The more fanatical Islamic terrorists will usually fight to the death while those more inclined to make a deal will not. Islamic terrorist groups, especially ISIL, try to identify and purge (expel or execute) the faint hearted as security risks.

April 17, 2021: In the northeast (south of Gao) in the tri-border area, there was an attack by armed men riding motorcycles left about twenty villagers dead or wounded. The raiders first fired on a funeral ceremony outside the village and then rode on to the village, continuing to fire at anyone they could see. The gunmen stole goods and vehicles and fled before soldiers or police could arrive. It was unclear if the raiders were Islamic terrorists or bandits. The chaos and lawlessness in the tri-border area caused by the presence of so many Islamic terror groups has led to for formation of some bandit gangs that operate like the Islamic terrorists. These raids start with the raiders firing on everyone to avoid anyone taking cellphone pictures of them, which can assist security forces in identifying them, especially if they are locals, and hunting them down.

April 16, 2021: In central Mali (Mopti) a feud between local tribesmen and Islamic terrorists left about a hundred of the fighters on both sides dead or wounded during nearly a week of fighting. Some of the local tribesmen had joined the Islamic terror group and one was challenged by his brother who sided with the tribe when the Islamic terrorists seized some food from a villager and refused demands that it be returned. The tribal militia and local hunter groups were called out and several days of skirmishing and ambushes persuaded the Islamic terrorist leaders to make peace with the tribe. This sort of thing is only a problem if members of tribal militias or local hunting groups are involved. The militiamen and hunters are armed and usually willing to fight. The hunters are particularly lethal because they know the local terrain better than the Islamic terrorists and are often hired by security forces to track Islamic terrorists. These hunters often have to get paid enough to move their families to another area to avoid retaliation.




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