Mali: Discretion Available If The Price Is Right


July 12, 2017: A final peace deal with the rebellious Tuareg in the north was signed in early 2015 and is being observed, sort of. The reality is that the CMA (the Tuareg separatist coalition) and the pro-government Tuareg coalition have not resolved all their clan and family disputes. These local, and often ancient, disagreements and feuds are often not connected with the 2012 rebellion in the north nor the continuing Islamic terrorism problems but they do cause security problems that interfere with rebuilding the economy and much else.

Meanwhile Islamic terrorism is spreading to the more populous south but not because of unrest in the north but because Islamic radicalism is extremely popular with young Moslems these days. You can thank global communications and all that oil money spent on subsidizing hardcore Islam worldwide.

The Tuareg peace deal was stalled for over a year because the black majority in the south did not want to grant as much autonomy as the Tuaregs demanded. The two groups have always been at odds but were only united in the same country by the colonial French in the 19th century. Like most African countries, dividing the nation is not an acceptable option and the colonial borders are considered sacrosanct. The current mess began when France took swift action in January 2013 by leading a military operation to clear Islamic terrorists out of northern Mali. Aided by Chad and a growing number of other African peacekeeping contingents, this effort continues and is somewhat open ended. The French acted because in 2012 Tuareg tribal rebels (with the help of al Qaeda affiliated Islamic terrorists) in northern Mali chased out government forces and declared a separate Tuareg state. The Mali army mutinied (because of lack of support from the corrupt government) down south and took control of the capital. The army soon backed off when neighboring nations threatened to intervene.

T he thinly populated northern two-thirds of the country has a population of less than two million, out of 15 million for all of Mali. The north was very poor in the best of times, and over a year of violence there has halted tourism (a major source of income, especially in the three major cities up there) and the movement of many goods. Mali still has internal problems (mainly corruption) and continued unrest in the north. National GDP increases about five percent a year but the corruption is still thriving and there is not a lot of evidence nationwide that the economy is getting better.

A lot depends on whether the majority in the south can reduce corruption and deal fairly with the Tuaregs and other minorities (like Arabs) in the north or the restless Fulani in central Mali. The elected Mali government is back in power but appears to be as corrupt as ever and under growing pressure from donor nations to either clean up the corruption or see most of the aid disappear. Meanwhile foreign trainers have only been able to put about 10,000 Malian troops through a Western style training course. Currently Mali has 7,000 soldiers on active duty and 8,000 reservists. There is still a problem with the quality (and honesty) of the officers who tend to be most influenced by the rampant corruption.

United We Survive

The local Islamic terror groups are, by their own standards, not doing well. They are carrying out fewer attacks and trying to concentrate on staging ones that will generate maximum publicity or cash (or both). A very visible sign of this occurred earlier in 2017 when the main local Islamic terror groups consolidated by forming JNIM (Jamâ’ah Nusrah al Islâm wal Muslimîn, or Group for the support of Islam and Moslems). In part this is a reaction to the growing threat from ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) 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 (Macina Liberation Front), and al Mourabitoun (an al Qaeda splinter group). Another reason for merging is to make it easier to pool resources (including information and advice) and coordinate with other Islamic terror groups in the area. Making a coalition like this work is always difficult, especially considering the importance of ethnic differences. The FLM is Fulani while the other groups are largely Tuareg, Arab and some foreigners. Note that JNIM did not absorb all of AQIM or al Mourabitoun, just local groups that had long been identified with al Qaeda. Al Mourabitoun is believed to have largely rejoined al Qaeda. Internal politics for Islamic terror groups is a lot messier than these religious zealots like to admit. That’s mainly because each group believes they are uniquely qualified to be the supreme leader of all Islam. Coping with this aspect of Islamic radicalism has proved burdensome and ultimately becomes a major reason for Islamic terror movements to fade away (via desertion and other forms of self-destruction).

July 9, 2017: In the north (outside Gao) Islamic terrorists ambushed a military convoy and ten soldiers were apparently captured.

July 2, 2017: France has proposed that Mali allow Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania and Niger to raise another 5,000 peacekeepers to deal with Islamic terrorism in the Sahel (the band of semi-desert lands south of the Sahara). France would continue leading a Western coalition providing the trainers, equipment and financial support for the additional peacekeepers.

July 1, 2017: JNIM released a video showing the six foreigners (from France, Australia, South Africa, Romania, Switzerland and Colombia) they are holding for ransom in northern Mali. JNIM is apparently soliciting discreet offers. Most 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.

June 24, 2017: In the north (outside Timbuktu) a Swedish man, held captive since 2011, was released by his Islamic terrorist captors. Sweden has a policy of not paying ransom and the group that captured the Swede were demanding a minimum of $5 million. The former hostage, now 42, was in good health and unable or unwilling to provide details of why or how he was freed.

June 18, 2017: In the south, JNIM attacked a tourist resort outside the capital (Bamako), killing five people (including three foreigners). Police responded killing four of the attackers and soon arresting four more. JNIM described the attackers as Fulani.

June 17, 2017: In the north (outside Timbuktu) JNIM attacked an army base, killing five and wounding eight soldiers while one of the attackers was killed. JNIM looted the camp, destroyed eight vehicles and made off with one vehicle plus some weapons and ammo. Several soldiers may have been taken prisoner as well.




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