In the north French led peacekeepers (mainly from Chad and Burkino Faso) plus Mali Army troops have established regular patrols (at random intervals) to the few water holes in the desert. Water is scarce up there and the water holes are the main source of water for the animals (camels and other livestock) the few people up there. Life is impossible in the arid north without regular access to the water holes. The French have helped create relationships with the various tribes and in exchange for favors (foreign aid, security and whatever else works) have been able to get more and more information about the movement of “strangers” (usually smugglers or Islamic terrorists). The Islamic terrorists have hideouts in the north, but they must regularly obtain water and that turns out to be a major vulnerability which the French are trying to exploit. This, in combination with the French and American air patrols makes life very difficult for the Islamic terrorists up there. Mali security forces have rarely had good relations in the Tuareg north, especially in the mountains near the Algerian and Libyan borders. Also a problem are French efforts to recruit and train Mali soldiers and police who can provide security in the north. Corruption and tribal loyalties often make this difficult if not impossible. This is a major problem because intelligence is the key to dealing with Islamic terrorists, especially in an area like northern Mali where the Islamic terrorist groups are not particularly popular. The French are stuck in northern Mali until they can come up with some workable solution to the problem with security in the north. The key element here is the conflict between the local Tuaregs and the black majority (90 percent of the population) from the south that dominates the government and has long resisted granting the autonomy the Tuareg have always demanded. The Mali government is under tremendous pressure from France and foreign donors to make a deal with the Tuareg. But such a deal is political poison down south and a very hard sell.
December 9, 2014: The last French citizen held captive in Mali was released, apparently in exchange for five members of AQIM
(Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) held in Mali prisons. The freed Frenchman had been held for three years after having been kidnapped in Mali. He was apparently held most of the time in neighboring Niger. Unofficially the French reported that they made the prisoner exchange rather than see the French captive killed and that the French government would admit nothing. This is an effort to placate other Western nations who all agree it is best not to negotiate with the Islamic terrorists because that only encourages them to kidnap more Westerners because they are assured of a reward. European governments, in particular, are prone to breaking this pact because of media and political pressure.
December 1, 2014: The IMF (International Monetary Fund) lifted a six month ban on aid for Mali. The ban cut off most foreign aid and was the result of Mali seeking to spend $40 million in aid money on a presidential airplane as well as ordering supplies for the military in a blatantly corrupt fashion. The IMF demanded audits and new spending procedures that made corruption more difficult and easier to spot. The Mali officials resisted but finally relented when it became clear that the donor community was serious about withholding aid.
November 27, 2014: A third round of peace talks with the Tuareg rebels up north ended without a final agreement. The main obstacle now is the degree of autonomy the Tuareg dominated north would have. For any peace deal to work the Islamic terrorists have to be kept out of northern Mali and this requires cooperation from the Tuareg majority up there as well as some military help from Algeria. For decades the main source of Islamic terrorists in North Africa has been Algeria. Thus both countries want their mutual border to be an effective barrier to Islamic terrorists and smugglers. Mali has cooperated in securing the border. Algeria has hosted three rounds of peace talks between Mali and the Tuareg rebels. There have been four major Tuareg uprisings in the north over the last fifty years and the black majority in the south has always been reluctant to grant the Tuareg of the north as much autonomy as the Tuareg wanted.
November 25, 2014: In the north (near Gao) a roadside bomb killed two soldiers and wounded nine. Elsewhere in the north (Tessalit) a water truck hit a mine and there were no casualties. Also in the north 38 peacekeepers from Chad deserted their jobs to protest slow delivery of food, water and other supplies. After the transportation difficulties (the need for armed escorts to protect the trucks from Islamic terrorists and bandits) were explained the Chadian soldiers agreed to return to duty two days later.
November 22, 2014: In the north (near Kidal) Islamic terrorists are suspected of being behind a raid that left two children dead and ten kidnapped. This is how Islamic terrorists are maintaining their strength, by kidnapping teenage (or younger) boys and forcing them to work for them, or persuading them to join the terrorist organization.
November 21, 2014: In the north (Bourem near Gao) a suicide bomber detonated outside a phosphate mine but only killed himself and did not cause any other casualties.
The UN has expanded its Ebola containment efforts to Mali, where six people have died of the disease. By early December Mali was declared free of Ebola. Ebola first showed up in southern Mali in October. The current Ebola outbreak is a year old and the worst ever. So far at least 16,000 people have caught Ebola and at over 5,000 have died. Nearly all the Ebola cases have been in Liberia, Guinea (where the first cases were detected) and Sierra Leone. On October 23rd the first case was detected in Mali. Over a thousand people in Mali were quarantined in the successful effort to contain the disease. All this Ebola activity has been in the south and the infected people apparently came from neighboring Guinea. In the three countries with most Ebola activity the containment measures are finally working and infections are declining. Cases have shown up in over twenty other countries, but have not spread because of vigorous response from local governments.
November 19, 2014: In neighboring Niger Islamic terrorists crossed over from northern Mali and attacked the town of Bani-Bangou. Local security forces held off the assault until the government could use helicopters to rush in reinforcements. Such raids are usually to obtain supplies and Islamic terrorists often do this sort of thing in Niger because in most of northern Mali peacekeepers and warplanes (including helicopter gunships) are likely to show up quickly and lead to a deadly pursuit of the raiders. It’s relatively safer to raid into Niger. In the last two months Niger security forces and local civilians have suffered dozens of casualties fighting Islamic terrorists, usually along the Mali border.
November 17, 2014: AQIM released a video onto the Internet showing two captives of AQIM (a French man and a Dutch man) pleading for their government to rescue them from certain death. The French government acted.