The Mali military government use of Russian Wagner Group mercenaries has been a disaster for northern and central Mali because the Russians can’t halt the expansion of Islamic terror groups. The military government expelled the more effective French counter-terrorism forces and troops from neighboring countries that still work with the French. While the French presence was good for the average Mali citizen, it was bad for the military government because the French troops protected journalists reporting on the situation in Mali. This included the corruption and poor administrative skills of the military government.
Without the French-led counterterrorism effort in Mali, the Islamic terrorists are expanding the territory they control while also terrorizing civilians, killing soldiers and peacekeepers. They are also fighting each other. The larger Islamic terror group, an al Qaeda coalition called JNIM (Jamâ’ah Nusrah al Islâm wal Muslimîn, or Group for the support of Islam and Moslems), is gaining control over more of Mali and even making more frequent attacks near the capital Bamako down south.
In the north, ISGS (Islamic States in Greater Sahara) Islamic terrorists near the Niger border have taken advantage of the departure of French counterterrorism forces in 2021 by seizing and holding territory in Mali. This began with more attacks on the Niger border. The departing French and G5 counter-terrorism forces had kept the Islamic terrorists out of Mali. The Mali army and a small number of Russian (Wagner Group) military contractors have been unable, or unwilling, to carry on with that effort or prevent the Islamic terror groups from crossing the border and advancing into Mali. ISGS is one of the two ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) groups in the region. When they showed up in 2018, ISGS operated mainly in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, especially the area where the three borders meet.
Since late 2022 ISGS have been working to take control of the border between Mali and Niger. Mali responded with soldiers and a handful of Wagner Group mercenaries but that was unsuccessful. After that Mali did nothing about the situation as its security forces and the UN peacekeepers were needed elsewhere. The Niger government was also unable to respond and sought to negotiate a deal with ISGS. Appearing in 2015 as an affiliate of ISIL and part of ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province) that changed in 2021 when ISGS declared itself separate from ISWAP and declared northern Mali and some areas in Niger and Burkina Faso its future caliphate. The ISIL affiliated Islamic terrorists are far more violent than the more numerous al Qaeda. This also means casualties for the 12,000 UN peacekeepers. ISGS violence involves attacks on Islamic terror groups that refuse to take orders from ISIL.
The tri-border (Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso) area has been a terrorist hotspot since 2018 because Islamic terror groups can just cross the border to escape any effective counterterrorism efforts. For that reason, this area has been called the Menaka Region. Previously this area was just part of the larger Gao Region, centered on one of the few cities in the north. The area being fought over is near where the borders of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso meet. Menaka has become ungovernable because so many Islamic terrorists and bandits now operate here. The French counterterrorism forces regularly searched for and attacked specific Islamic terrorist targets. The Mali government underestimated how important the French forces, with their airmobile troops, UAV surveillance and ground attack aircraft were in keeping the Islamic terrorists from establishing themselves inside Mali. The current Mali military government has no clear plan for dealing with this situation and are withdrawing their counterterrorism forces south, to protect the capital and the more prosperous and populous south.
The neighbors see the reliance on Wagner Group as the main cause for more Islamic terrorists operating in Mali and spreading to neighboring countries. This includes Algeria, which has been largely Islamic terrorism free for over a decade. Now Algeria is seeing a return of Islamic terrorist activity because of the growing number of active Islamic terrorists across the border in northern Mali. Despite this, Mali does not want the French back because that makes it easier for foreigners to document the growing corruption of the military government. These corruption reports lead to more countries imposing individual sanctions on officers running the military government and profiting from the corruption. So far the strategy of the Mali military officers running the government is to abandon northern, and portions of central Mali to the Islamic terror groups. Complaints from the neighbors are ignored even though that means less foreign aid for Mali. The source of all these problems is corruption.
April 12, 2023: In central Mali (the Menaka region) ISGS Islamic terrorists are currently 75 kilometers north of the regional capital, the town of Menaka. ISGS is seeking to seize control of all roads out of Menaka. Many of the town’s 20,000 residents are fleeing or preparing to do so. The Manaka Airport is five kilometers outside the town and is expected to be shut down if ISGS forces get close enough to fire on aircraft landing or taking off.
April 10, 2023: Leaked American intelligence documents revealed that in February Russian Wagner Group military contractors sought to purchase weapons from Turkey for use by Wagner forces in Mali. Turkey refused, fearing that some of these weapons would end up with the more numerous Wagner forces fighting in Ukraine.
April 6, 2023: In the south, outside the capital Bamako, Islamic terrorists attacked a checkpoint, killing two three policemen and two civilians.
March 22, 2023: The UN reported that its peacekeepers in Mali have been unable to halt the growing violence there. The peacekeepers report that during the last three months of 2022, at least 370 people kidnapped or disappeared. For all of 2022, 1,277 civilians were killed. This is double the number killed by such violence in 2021. Islamic terrorists are the most common cause of such violence, with much of the rest the result of Wagner Group operations. The UN peacekeeper force is scheduled to leave Mali unless the UN renews it and, preferably, increases the size of the force. Without a larger peacekeeper force in Mali, there is not a lot the peacekeepers can do to reduce violence.
March 20, 2023: In neighboring Niger, the government negotiated the release of a French journalist and an American air worker. The American was seized in 2016 while at his home in Niger. He was taken to Mali, where he was held for several years before being moved back to Niger. The French journalist was seized in 2021 while in northern Mali (the Gao region) by JNIM Islamic terrorists. The reporter was there to interview an Islamic terrorist leader. Niger did not disclose who or what was exchanged to free the two men. There have been a lot more kidnappings in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger during the last few years. There were 532 kidnappings in 2022, a sharp increase from 33 in 2017. There have been 115 kidnappings so far this year. Most of those taken are locals believed to have enough assets or notoriety to yield a large ransom. Foreigners are prime targets and must either leave the region or arrange tight security.