Potential Hot Spots: The UN Dithers While Mali Smolders

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October 3, 2012: Northern Mali is still held by various Islamic terror and tribal separatist groups. The south is run by a temporary government while army officers who want to run the country and openly disagree with the civilian government are still there waiting to stage another coup (as they did last April).

In the north the Islamic terrorists control most of the cities and large towns and have been trying to enforce Islamic law (Sharia). That means no secular music, outside work for women, no school for girls, and lashings and amputations for criminals. Short on fighters, the Islamic terrorists are recruiting (sometimes by force) teenage boys, while older people are secretly forming resistance groups. In the countryside the Tuareg rebel groups are in control and are starting to raid into the south as well. The Islamic radicals have encountered growing resistance in the north but no real threat to their rule. There have been some compromises. Recently some schools were reopened in the north and girls were allowed to attend, as long as they covered themselves and sat together in the back of the classroom.

In the south the government has called for foreign troops to help deal with the Islamic terrorists, who have begun pushing into the more populous (and less arid) south. The army threatens to block foreign troops but is willing to accept weapons, logistical aid (transports and helicopters), and cash. Few people, inside or outside Mali, trust the leadership of the Mali army (which only consists of a about five thousand troops). The army is currently more concerned with growing competition (independent militias training and arming to retake the north) and regaining control of the government than they are with fighting up north.

Other African states in the neighborhood want the Islamic radicals out of northern Mali. Western nations also want the Islamic terror groups shut down or chased out of northern Mali. But there is disagreement over how to do this. ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) has organized an intervention force and France is willing to help. But the United States wants a stable government in southern Mali first before it supports a military operation in the north. In other words, the Mali military must be purged of the mutinous officers who took over the government last March. These officers gave up power in April but remained in control of the military. There are supposed to be new elections, but these have not been held yet.

Then there is the impact of the drug gangs (smuggling South American cocaine and local drugs north to Europe) which cannot be underestimated. Local officials are easy to bribe and are not keen on wiping out the source of all their new-found wealth. This has led to some resistance to Western (or any outside) intervention in northern Mali. Many local leaders blame the United States and the West for this mess. The reasoning is twisted, but it involves Western counter-terrorism efforts in Africa and the usual Western imperialism. No mention of corruption among African politicians. This is one of the causes of a military coup in Mali last March. The troops wanted their political leaders to spend less time stealing and more time dealing with the growing unrest in the north. This is why the mutinous officers manage to retain control of the army because too many Malians they are the good guys and the politicians are the real villains. Many Malians see foreign troops being used to keep corrupt Mali politicians in power, as well as expelling the Islamic terrorists in the north. It may take a while to sort out the political situation in southern Mali. Meanwhile the Islamic terror groups are making themselves comfortable in the north and planning new attacks locally and further afield.

While bureaucrats and diplomats debate what to do and how to do it in the south, there is much suffering up north, where over 30 percent of the population has fled their homes and about 120,000 are still living in refugee camps. The economy up north is a mess and hunger is a growing problem. Getting free food aid to the north is getting easier, as the Islamic radicals are increasingly willing to work with southerners to avoid economic collapse and mass starvation in the north.

There are actually three different Islamic radical groups in the north. Ansar Dine, which controls Timbuktu, is from Mali and led by Tuareg Islamic radicals.  MUJAO  (Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa) controls GAO and is from neighboring Mauritania. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has members from all over North Africa but mostly from Algeria. MUJAO is basically a Mauritanian faction of AQIM and there is some tension between the two groups. AQIM has the most money and weapons and uses this to exercise control over the other two radical groups (who outnumber AQIM in Mali). Both these groups are sometimes at odds with Ansari Dine, which feels it should be in charge because it is Malian. But for the moment all three groups cooperate in order to maintain their control of the north.

Actually, the Islamic terror groups have only a loose control of the north. That's because there are only a few thousand armed Islamic terrorists and recruiting reliable and dedicated new members locally has been difficult. Several hundred teenagers have been accepted (or kidnapped according to some parents), while many adults are willing to be collaborators but not Islamic radicals. This makes it difficult to enforce Sharia (Islamic law) everywhere. The two largest cities (Timbuktu and Gao) require a lot of armed men to maintain control, and outside the cities Tuareg rebels often keep the Islamic radicals from moving about freely.

The EU (European Union) is planning to support the ECOWAS intervention force with cash, weapons, transportation, and technical services (like mine clearing) but only after the UN agrees. Many UN members are generally opposed to interventions like this. But no one wants a terrorist sanctuary in northern Mali either. At the moment, many nations are content to dither.

September 29, 2012: In the north Islamic terrorists (who are Sunni extremists) destroyed another Sufi shrine. The Sufis (and Shia and other Islamic sects) are considered heretics and often persecuted by Sunni conservatives.

September 26, 2012: France is leading the effort to get the UN to approve a foreign intervention in Mali to expel the Islamic terror groups from northern Mali. France occupied Mali as a colony for 68 years, until 1960, and has maintained close economic, cultural, and diplomatic ties ever since they left.

September 22, 2012:  The Islamic terrorists who control the north refuse to negotiate with the Mali government until the entire country accepts Sharia. While 90 percent of Malians are Moslem, most of them do not want to live under Sharia law.

September 21, 2012: The government agreed to allow 3,300 ECOWAS troops to enter the country and liberate the north from Islamic terrorists and Tuareg rebels. But this force won't enter Mali until the UN approves of the intervention.

September 17, 2012: In the north Islamic terrorists destroyed another Sufi shrine.

September 16, 2012: Four French citizens were kidnapped by Islamic radicals in northern Niger and moved to northern Mali. The Islamic terrorists are using these four, and two others taken last November, to try and coerce France into cooperating with the terrorists. This does put pressure on French politicians, but so far the French have remained determined to expel the Islamic terrorists from northern Mali.

 

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