Mali: The Weakest Link

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July 30, 2018: So far this year most of the violence has not been from Islamic terror attacks but because of clashes involving tribal groups who sometimes proclaim their violence Islamic terrorist related but most of the time it is not. Since the start of the year, nearly 300 have died from this violence with many of the victims unarmed bystanders. There have been about a hundred of these clashes so far, most of them in central Mali (Mopti region) where the pastoral Fulani clash with the sedentary Bambara and Dogon who tend to be farmers. Further north it is one Tuareg clan versus another or Islamic terrorists, especially an ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) faction called ISGS (Islamic State in the Greater Sahara) The ISGS is considered a major threat for the local Tuareg because ISGS, in an effort to intimidate the Tuareg into cooperating (or at least not interfering) with the Islamic terrorists have killed dozens of unarmed Tuareg in the last few months. This is all about survival for ISGS. Islamic terrorists, even the most extreme ones like ISIL need cash because it is simply more efficient to purchase many items (like weapons, ammo, information and sanctuary in areas controlled by local tribes. Northeast Mali (near Gao and the Niger border) is where ISGS operates. As a result, the violence is escalating there but is still infrequent and much of it is Islamic terrorists raiding villages for supplies. This ISIL franchise is frequently encountered in northeastern Mali on both sides of the Niger border. The ISGS personnel frequently clash with pro-government Tuareg militias and usually lose. It’s not that these ISGS men are not fanatic enough but that the Tuareg know the area well and have lots of experience in irregular warfare. Since March 2018 ISGS has taken very heavy losses as the Tuareg militias worked with a special French counterterrorism operation that included troops from Mali and Niger and spent enough time searching to find several ISGS camps and forcing the Islamic terrorists to fight. So far ISGS has lost over a hundred dead and captured but groups like ISGS don’t surrender but fight harder until they are crushed. ISGS is still up there but in much-reduced circumstances.

The Tuareg clans also battle each other over various issues, many of them ancient feuds but also over how to handle the peace deal with the government that ended the 2012-13 war in the north to destroy an Islamic terrorist/Tuareg separatist government.

Most of the Islamic terrorists in Mali belong to AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) or JNIM (Jamâ’ah Nusrah al Islâm wal Muslimîn, or Group for the support of Islam and Moslems). In Mali and neighboring states, most of the Islamic terrorists are not ISIL and are largely united. AQIM concentrates on its fundraising operations (mostly smuggling) while most of the Islamic terrorist activity is the work of JNIM, which was formed in early 2017. In part JNIM was a reaction to the growing threat from ISIL which is hostile to everyone who is not ISIL and will attack or recruit from JNIM members (AQIM factions, Ansar Dine, FLM and al Mourabitoun). Another reason for the merger was to make it easier to pool resources (including information and advice) and coordinate with other Islamic terror groups in the area. This reduces friction and destructive feuding. Making a coalition like this work is always difficult, especially considering the importance of ethnic differences. As a result of this cooperation, there are now connections (supplying information, personnel, supplies) between Islamic terrorists in central Mali and those in the north. These links weren’t that common before JNIM was formed.

July 29, 2018: In the north (Kidal) Islamic terrorists fired ten mortar shells at various targets in the city, including polling places and military bases. No one was killed but normal activities were suspended for hours near areas where shells fell. Since the presidential election is being held today the shelling was apparently meant to disrupt that. The Islamic terrorist violence (mostly in the north) did manage to keep about one out of every 220 voting stations closed. One in seven were closed temporarily because of violence. The vote was completed successfully although the turnout was lower than expected. Voting hasn’t brought in honest and effective leaders in the past and most voters are not optimistic.

July 28, 2018: In central Mali, there were more clashes between tribal (Fulani, Bambara and Dogon) militias leaving at least 17 dead. Over the last few months, more than fifty have died in this militia violence.

July 25, 2018: In the north (Timbuktu) hundreds of Arab residents, many of them armed, demonstrated to protest the continuing Islamic terrorist violence which was making it difficult to do business. Arabs dominate the small business community in the city.

July 24, 2018: In central Mali, Islamic terrorists shelled Ambodedjo airport outside Sevare but caused little damage and no casualties.

July 23, 2018: The EU (European) has agreed to pay for repairs to the G5 headquarters in Sevare, a city on the Niger River in central Mali where Islamic terrorists attacked a G5 international counterterrorism force regional headquarters on June 29 and heavily damaged the headquarters and base it was in. The organizers of the G5 force are having problems with the Mali contingent, which was in charge of base security. The Mali military has long been a problem because these soldiers were seen, by most Malians, as thugs in uniform rather than a trained, disciplined and effective military force. The problems with the Mali military have always been at the center of whatever national crises developed. This was acknowledged in the wake of the 2012-13 Islamic terrorism crises in the Tuareg north. After that, despite efforts (foreign cash and trainers) to train a new generation of Mali officers and troops the army was still unreliable. The army did show some improvement but not enough to make a major difference. Thus the Mali contingent of the G5 force has problems and makes the entire G5 force look bad and undeserving of long-term support.

Trying to persuade donor countries to make a long-term commitment to paying for the G5 force requires examples of G5 success. Donors and supporters earlier responded to calls for money to get G5 going. The G5 force now has over half a billion dollars in aid pledges but few long-term aid commitments. The reason for that is donors want to see how well the G5 force does over time. This is particularly true of the Mali contingent. The G5 troops are supposed to be among the best each nation has but African nations vary quite a lot in the quality of their soldiers. The other four G5 nations provide much more effective troops. A lot of this has to do with corruption and Mali is worse than the other G5 nations in that respect, especially in the military. It was corruption in the military that triggered the separatists and Islamic terrorist violence in the north and the attempted coup by the military when Mali lost control of the north in 2012.

Mali troops are still considered poorly trained and led by inadequate (and often corrupt) officers. Mali leaders say they can fix this but they have been saying that about the military and the government in general since 2012 and there has not been a lot of progress. As a result in central and northern Mali French troops and foreign peacekeepers are less likely to be attacked than Mali soldiers. Worse, it is the Mali troops who are most often assigned to guard aid convoys. This gives locals more of an incentive to attack these convoys. Many of the attacks on aid convoys are by bandits or local tribesmen looking for an easy way to make some money. Mali soldiers guarding a convoy not only indicates less dangerous convoy security but also an opportunity to strike back at the hated Mali military.

The regional G5 Sahel Joint Force was seen as a better peacekeeping solution because the five Sahel nations (Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad) involved would contribute troops best able to deal with Islamic terrorism throughout the Sahel. G5 just began operations in early 2018 but so far G5 has demonstrated the ability to get organized but not to make a difference in Mali, the most troublesome Sahel nation at the moment. The Mali contingent of the G5 is considered the least capable and the losses from the June 29th attack seem to bear that out. Outside of Mali G5 has been more effective, especially in Burkina Faso and Niger.

The idea for the G5 force has been around since 2015 but it was only by the end of 2016 that the countries involved agreed on the details. This included who would provide what in terms of the 5,000 soldiers and police needed and where they would be based. The G5 force will be stationed in three operational areas along with troops familiar with local conditions. Thus Sahel East would consist of troops from Chad and Niger. Sahel Central would be staffed by troops from Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso while Sahel West would mainly use troops from Mali and Mauritania. Some of the G5 force was operational by the end of 2017 and by early 2018 the G5 force has already taken part in several counter-terror operations, one of them in the area where the borders of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso meet. A successful G5 Force would enable France to shrink and eventually disband the force of 4,000 French troops it has deployed in the Sahel since 2013 and reduce the 13,000 strong UN peacekeeper force in Mali. The recent appearance of ISIL in the area and the October 2017 attack on American Special Forces troops in Niger was related to building the G5 Force. The peacekeepers in Mali are mainly African and mainly stationed in the north and, increasingly central Mali where there is more Islamic terror group activity, not all of it violent. Most of the recent Islamic terrorist violence has been in Mali.

July 20, 2018: In the north Islamic terrorists ambushed an army convoy but were pursued, losing 11 dead. One soldier was killed and several wounded. In the northeast, near the Niger border, unidentified armed men attacked a Tuareg village and killed twenty people.

July 19, 2018: Three British CH-47 helicopters arrived, along with 90 troops to operate and maintain them, to support counter-terror operations in the north.

July 18, 2018: In central Mali and across the border in Burkina Faso, the army and G5 forces there completed a ten-day operation that captured sixty Islamic terrorists and destroyed several bases. In April a similar eight-day counter-terror operation sealed the Mali border and over a hundred suspected Islamic terrorists on the Burkina Faso side of the frontier were arrested. Some of those arrested were known Islamic terrorists and in other locations explosives and weapons were seized.

July 15, 2018: In the northeast ISIL gunmen attacked a Tuareg village near the Niger border and killed 14 civilians.

July 11, 2018: Three years after placing the order for six Brazilian A-29 Super Tucano aircraft the Mali Air Force received the four Mali could afford. Budget problems reduced the size of the order. The A-29 was seen as an essential purchase because in 2015 Mali has no flyable combat aircraft. The Super Tucano is a single engine turbo-prop trainer/attack aircraft that is used by over a dozen nations, including many in Africa. This aircraft carries two internal 12.7mm (.50 caliber) machine-guns and can carry up to 1.5 tons of bombs and rockets. It can stay in the air for 6.5 hours at a time. It is rugged, easy to maintain, and cheap. You pay $15-20 million for each Super Tucano, depending on how much training, spare parts, and support equipment you get with them. Mali purchased some 20mm autocannon pods for its a-29s.

July 10, 2018: Algeria expelled another 355 illegal(from Niger) migrants and sent them back to Niger. Algeria has an agreement with Niger to return the illegals, via trucks or busses, to the Niger capital where Niger officials take over. Most 0ther sub-Saharan nations refuse to take their illegal migrants back from Algeria so Algeria takes these illegals to the Mali or Niger border, gives then supplies of water and points them in the direction of the nearest town across the border. Soldiers remain at the release point for a day or so because the illegals were told they would be shot on sight if they tried to double back into Algeria. European media found out about this practice (which was no secret in Algeria and the nations the illegals were forced to return to) and accused Algeria of murder because some of the illegals sent back died along the way. Algeria told the UN that if they wanted to help they could set up aid stations in Niger and Mali near the Algerian border. Whether the UN does that or not Algeria made it clear it would continue the “return” policy because most of the illegals made it home and reported that Algeria was not a good choice if you were seeking to migrate illegally. Many of these illegals are headed for Europe but will often remain in Algeria if they must to raise more money to pay the people smugglers to get them into Europe.

 

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