Mali: Fatal Frustration

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August 27, 2018: Mali has been relatively quiet lately with a lot more Islamic terrorist activity occurring in eastern neighbors Burkina Faso and Niger. The newly active G5 Sahel Joint Force was designed for situations like this because the five Sahel nations (Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad) each contributed troops best able to deal with Islamic terrorism throughout the Sahel. That is no instant solution because there is a lot of Islamic terrorist activity in the Sahel. G5 began operations in early 2018 and so far has demonstrated the ability to move and fight and make a difference. Mali is still the most troublesome Sahel nation but also has the most outside assistance, including a peacekeeping force along with a separate French counter-terror forces that also covers much of the Sahel along with the G5 force. The Mali contingent of the G5 is considered the least capable and that has to be taken into account while the training program for the Mali military slowly improves the quality of leadership and troop reliability. With Mali secured by all these foreign troops the G5 has been able to deal with Islamic terror problems elsewhere, especially Burkina Faso and Niger.

The G5 force consists of 5,000 soldiers and police that are stationed in three operational areas along with troops familiar with local conditions. Thus Sahel East consists of troops from Chad and Niger. Sahel Central is staffed by troops from Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso while Sahel West uses troops from Mali and Mauritania. Some of the G5 force was operational by the end of 2017 and by early 2018 the G5 force had 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 (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) in the area and the October 2017 attack on American Special Forces troops in Niger encouraged local and international support for 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.

Yet most of the recent Islamic terrorist violence has not been in Mali. That was one reason the Mali Army was successful in keeping things peaceful for the recent (July 29-August 13) presidential elections (the first round then a runoff). Most of the violent threats to the voting were in the north but that’s where most of the foreign troops were deployed. The Islamic terrorists are still operating in Mali but they have been embarrassed by their inability to disrupt the elections (as they said they would) or inflict many casualties on the local and foreign troops confronting them. The Islamic terrorists did make an effort to disrupt the elections but the most they were able to do was fire on voting places with machine-guns or mortars, rarely causing any casualties. Sometimes groups of armed Islamic terrorists would show up at voting locations in person but no matter what they did troops and police were quick to respond and it was the Islamic terrorists who found themselves more off balance than those running the elections. Over 96 percent of the 23,000 voting locations were able to function during the voting.

This election security effort success should not have been a surprise. In mid-July the Mali army cooperated with G5 forces in Burkina Faso during a ten day operation that captured sixty Islamic terrorists and destroyed several bases near the central Mali border. 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. Not surprisingly the Burkina Faso based Islamic terrorists did not seek safe haven in Mali because they knew that effective troops (mostly foreign) were more numerous in Mali than in Burkina Faso. Moreover the Islamic terror problems in Burkina Faso were, as is often the case, caused by local unrest and organized by local leaders. The Islamic terror groups in Mali are still there and constantly working to carry out successful, and hopefully headline worthy, attacks. The Islamic terrorists need the publicity to help with recruiting and efforts to intimidate local populations to cooperate (and not fight back or report Islamic terrorist activity to security forces).

August 12, 2018: President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was reelected in the second (runoff) round of voting today, with 67 percent of the votes. Only about 27 percent of registered voters cast a ballot (compared to the more common 40 percent). About two percent of the polling places (mostly in the north) were shut down by Islamic terrorist threats. Keita won 41 percent of the votes in the first round and opinion polls showed him winning the second round by a wide margin. His opponent Soumaila Cisse claimed fraud but foreign election monitors and the UN certified that the voting was generally free and untainted and corroborated what polling had predicted.

In the north (near Timbuktu) Islamic terrorists attacked a polling station and killed one of the election workers there. This was the only fatality during the runoff election.

August 11, 2018: In the north, across the border in Algeria (Tamanrasset) Sultan Ould Bady, a veteran Mali al Qaeda leader, surrendered to an Algerian army patrol. Since May Algeria has publicized border zones where Islamic terrorists seeking to surrender can cross while armed and not be shot on sight. Islamic terrorists seeking to surrender are advised what to do when they encounter troops. After the surrender of Bady was revealed there were rumors he had actually surrendered in late June (when a group of unidentified Mali Islamic terrorists surrendered) and that was kept secret while Bady was interrogated and what he revealed was acted on. Intelligence indicates there are a growing number of Islamic terrorists in northern Mali who want to get out of the terrorism business. Algeria has about 80,000 troops guarding its 3,000 kilometer long border with Mali and Libya and has been effective in detecting, if not always stopping. Those crossing illegally.

August 7, 2018: In central Mali (Mopti) there was another clash between tribal militias that left 11 Fulani dead. This happened at a cattle market when the Fulani were confronted by a Bambera militia who took the Fulani away and killed them. In July a similar clash left at least 17 dead. Over the last few months about 70 have died in this militia violence. The non-Moslem tribesmen traditionally form hunting groups called Dozo which can also function as a tribal militia and have proved formidable adversaries for the often violent Fulani.

July 31, 2018: In central Mali (Segou) Ansar Dine Islamic terrorists ambushed a military convoy. Four soldiers and eight of the attackers were killed. So far this year Islamic terrorist violence in Mali has left nearly 300 people dead in 99 incidents.

July 30, 2018: The results of the first round of the presidential election (held yesterday) are in and no one got a majority of the vote so there will be a runoff in two weeks. The two leaders in the first round are the same two candidates (Keita and Cisse) who faced each other in the 2013 elections. Cisse consistently gets half (or less) as many votes as Keita.

 

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