Because Mali has become the most dangerous UN peacekeeping mission the UN is trying to get member states to provide another 2,500 troops to expand the UN force there. The Mali government also wants the UN to allow peacekeepers to be more forceful with uncooperative groups (especially Tuareg) up north. Currently there are 12,000 peacekeepers in Mali, mostly in the north. There are a thousand French special operations troops there who are not part of the peacekeeping force and concentrate on finding and destroying Islamic terrorists. This French force is part of Task Force Barkhane, which has 0ver 3,000 French troops and operates throughout the Sahel (the semi-desert area just below the Sahara extending from the east coast of Africa all the way to the Atlantic). Task Force Barkhane can send more troops to Mali, but rarely does because it has so much to do in the rest of the Sahel. There are also several thousand Mali Army troops up north where they are regarded (by the largely Tuareg locals) as a hostile occupying force. That attitude goes back a long way and the 2015 peace deal was to have addressed that mistrust. It hasn’t and no UN member nation wants to send more peacekeepers to Mali until the government there meets its treaty obligations.
The Mali government has failed to come through with the autonomy and economic aid it agreed to provide if the Tuareg separatist rebels made peace. The government is still corrupt and inefficient and has never trusted the tribes up north. The main rebel group up there is the MNLA (French for “Liberation Army of Azawad”), which signed a peace deal in June 2015. While the government likes that MNLA is officially still at war with its former ally Ansar Dine, France points out that MNLA and Ansar Dine leaders still communicate with each other, mainly because they are all Tuareg and have tribal connections. MNLA and Ansar Dine relations with AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) are less friendly and MNLA is often very hostile with AQIM personnel. This unstable situation up north won’t resolve itself unless the government keeps its side of the peace deal. MNLA is obviously ready to work with Ansar Dine again if the central government keeps stalling on meeting its obligations.
The Tuareg never trusted the national government and the current situation does not help. Azawad is the Tuareg term for their homeland in northern Mali (and several other North African nations). MNLA and Ansar Dine are largely Tuareg but Ansar Dine refuses to make peace and continues to fund its terrorist operations with drug smuggling profits. MNLA gave up drug smuggling and cooperation with Islamic terrorists when it agreed to the 2015 peace deal. The continued smuggling explains Ansar Dine involvement with the new Islamic terror group FLM (Macina Liberation Front) down south. AQIM is still something of an umbrella organization for Islamic terrorists in the region and survives in the north largely because the government has not complied with the peace deal.
There are still a lot of unresolved disagreements between the many pro-government and former rebel tribes and clans up there. These feuds are proving more difficult to solve because of the government refusal to deliver aid and autonomy. This is causing enough anarchy to give the Islamic terrorists opportunities to move around and carry out attacks and keep their drug smuggling enterprise running. The local squabbles tie down the peacekeepers and make it more difficult for the French led counter-terror operations.
Where Peacekeepers Go To Die
Since 2013 81 peacekeepers have died in Mali. A quarter of those deaths occurred in the last year. Most of these deaths occurred in the north, where most of the violence has occurred since (and before) the peacekeepers arrived in early 2013. The peacekeepers are mainly African and in the last year the combined forces suffered a death rate of 150 per 100,000 per year (a standard measure of such things.) Compare that to the 2013 rate (200 per 100,000) for foreign troops in Afghanistan. That was down from 587 in 2010, which was about what it was during the peak years in Iraq (2004-7). Foreign combat troops largely were gone from Afghanistan after 2013. The action in Mali is less intense than in pre-2014 Afghanistan or pre-2011 Iraq but is more than double the rate for peacekeepers worldwide. Total peacekeeper casualties since mid-2013 are only about 250 dead and wounded and losses have been much heavier among the Islamic terrorists.
June 17, 2016: AQIM released another “proof of life” video of the Swiss missionary they kidnapped in the north (Timbuktu) on January 7th. The captive (Beatrice Stockly) was a longtime resident of the area and had been kidnapped in 2012 but released a week later. She spoke briefly in the three minute video, mainly to say she was still healthy but “suffering from the heat.” The rest of the video consisted of AQIM insisting Stockly would only be released if several Islamic terrorists imprisoned in Niger and Mali are released. So far there is no willingness to do this and search and rescue efforts for Stockly continue. AQIM initially demanded a multi-million dollar ransom for her but Switzerland has a policy of not paying ransoms. Moreover the Mali government had warned Stockly not to return to Mali after the 2012 kidnapping but she insisted it was her religious duty to do so. AQIM considers Stockly guilty of trying to convert Moslems to Christianity, something she was not doing. To AQIM (and many Moslem countries) this is a capital crime and the punishment is death.
June 13, 2016: In the northeast, near the Niger border, fighting between pro and anti-government tribal militias left at least even dead after several days of fighting.
June 11, 2016: In the north (outside Timbuktu) a local pro-government militia clashed with a group of Islamic terrorists and killed eight of them. The dead were from one of the new Islamic terrorist groups in Mali, the FLM (Macina Liberation Front). The Macina are a Fulani tribe from central Mali. FLM considers itself a partner with Ansar Dine, who helped get FLM started. FLM is one of the several smaller outfits belonging to AQIM. FLM was formed in 2015 and until now has only been seen operating in central and southern Mali. The group identifies itself as Fulani, a dominant tribe in central Mali (and 14 percent of the national population.) This was the first time FLM has been seen operating so far north. The main concentration of AQIM personnel are in the north, in the rural areas between the northern city of Timbuktu and the borders with Mauritania and Algeria and that probably had something to do with a group of armed FLM encountering a local militia. Ansar Dine is still a presence north of Timbuktu because many of its leaders and members came from the area. Ansar Dine was unique in that it was the only Islamic terrorist group from Mali and was led by Tuareg Islamic radicals who were formerly secular rebels. Ansar Dine always saw itself as the only Malian group in AQIM, which many Malians consider a bunch of gangsters, dependent on its relationship with drug gangs (al Qaeda moves the drugs north to the Mediterranean coast) and kidnappers (who hold Europeans for multi-million dollar ransoms). All this cash gave AQIM a lot of power, both to buy weapons and hire locals.
May 31, 2016: In the north (outside Gao) an AQIM rocket landed in a peacekeeper base, killing one peacekeeper and wounding five other troops. The dead soldier was Chinese, the first Chinese peacekeeper killed on duty in Africa. There are 2,400 Chinese troops currently serving as peacekeepers in Mali and six other African nations. Elsewhere in the area three UN employees were shot dead while clearing mines. Islamic terrorists were believed responsible.
In the south, just across the border in Burkina Faso three policemen were killed when a group of heavily armed men attacked a police station at night. Islamic terrorists are suspected. Because of violence like this in January Mali signed an agreement with Burkina Faso to share intelligence on Islamic terrorists as well as coordinate security operations along their mutual border. The success of the 2013 French-led offensive into northern Mali drove thousands of Islamic terrorists into neighboring countries and that’s when the Islamic terror problem in Burkina Faso went from troublesome to terrible. Burkina Faso also still hosts 33,000 refugees, nearly all of them from Mali. Burkina Faso is, like Mali, landlocked and has 17 million people (about 20 percent more than Mali). Burkina Faso also lacks the troublesome Tuareg/Arab minority in the north. Because Burkina Faso is south of Mali it also lacks the semi-desert north in Mali. That is where the Tuareg/Arab minority live. Burkina Faso also has more religious diversity with a quarter of the population being Christian and 60 percent Moslem. Moreover the Moslem population consists of several different “schools” of Islam, some of them quite hostile to Sunni Islamic terrorism as practiced by al Qaeda and ISIL.