Mali: Repeating History Rather Than Changing It

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September 24, 2018: France and the United States are pressuring the recently reelected Mali president to finally implement the terms of the 2015 peace deal with separatist Tuareg tribes up north. Failure to do so will cause more of those tribes to go rogue and be nothing but trouble for the government. The only thing that keeps those Tuareg tribes in line are the peacekeepers and especially the French counterterrorism force. If the Mali government can’t get past its own corruption and prejudice (against Tuaregs and Arabs up north) then there will be unspecified but definitely punitive consequences. The corruption and mismanagement by Mali government officials is what triggered the 2012 rebellion and subsequent (March) army coup against the government of corrupt president Amadou Toumani Toure (who fled the country in April). After that government finances were scrutinized and it was found that Toure had managed to steal or waste $261 million in the two years before he fled. The high level of corruption in the Toure government was one reason why he was overthrown by the military, who knew that he and his cronies had stolen a lot of money intended for the troops in the north. Toure had been in power since the 1990s and was long known for being extremely corrupt. While a new government was technically opposed to corruption the economy and much of the government is still seen as controlled by the wealthy families and prominent politicians who were “deposed” from power in 2012. Many Malians believe that the core problem is the endemic corruption that never seems to go away. Toure along with his predecessors and successors openly pledged to do something about the corruption. Toure actually did and was much more effective than his very corrupt and brutal predecessors. But in absolute terms, Toure was corrupt, because he believed that was how you got things done in Mali. Many prominent Malians still believe that. But the current president, the one that that succeeded Toure (after the army was persuaded to back off so elections could be held) is repeating history not changing it.

The European and African countries providing the peacekeepers (and economic aid) are also losing patience. Meanwhile, all that corruption and mismanagement in northern Mali provides Islamic terror groups opportunities to do business (smuggle drugs, weapons and people), but the support of some locals and survive. The recently activated G5 Sahel Joint Force is meant to deal with the Islamic terror groups but is also having problems with corruption, coordination and poor leadership. G5 Force was designed to deal with terrorism in the semi-desert area between well-watered central Africa and the Sahara (and other North African deserts). The five Sahel nations (Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad) each contributed troops best able to deal with the threats 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 force that also covers much of the Sahel alongside 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. But there have been administrative and coordination problems. Mali is the most corrupt of the Sahel counties not the only corrupt nation in the region.

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. The G5 troops have done well when fighting Islamic terrorists but most of the time G5 personnel are either searching for Islamic terrorists or back at their bases training and waiting to get new or replacement equipment or, in the worst cases, to get paid and fed in a timely manner.

September 13, 2018: The government declared that administrative problems made it impossible to hold the parliamentary elections as scheduled for October 28th. The vote will be delayed one month. Many of the problems were related to candidates being late in registering to run for office. The opposition parties still claim, with some justification, that the recent (August) presidential election was tainted by corruption and expect the same with the legislative elections.

September 5, 2018: The United States declared Mali based JNIM (Jamâ’ah Nusrah al Islâm wal Muslimîn, or Group for the support of Islam and Moslems) a foreign terrorist organization and thus subject to all manner of sanctions and restrictions. Most of the Islamic terrorists in Mali belong to AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) or JNIM. In Mali and neighboring states, most of the Islamic terrorists are not ISIL and are largely united. AQIM concentrates on its fund raising operations (mostly drug and people 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 (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) 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. JNIM is primarily active in central Mali where the Niger River marks the boundary between the green south and sandy north. JNIM is distracted by some tribal feuds, which makes it more difficult to plan and carry out Islamic terror attacks.

September 4, 2018: In the northeast (outside Menaka) someone fired a rocket into a peacekeeper base, wounding one peacekeeper. The attacker was probably from the ISGS (Islamic State in the Greater Sahara), which is active in this area and angry about French forces recently killing their leader. ISGS is having problems and concentrating on survival. ISGS, like most 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, the local branch of ISIL operates and these Islamic extremists do not get along with the local Tuareg tribes. 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 150 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 fact that this recent rocket attack was the only violence up there this month attests to that.

August 27, 2018: France verified that they had killed Mohamed Ag Almouner, the leader of the ISGS yesterday in northeast Mali, near Menaka. In addition to Almouner and one of his subordinates, two civilians were also killed in the August 26 airstrike.

 

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