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Potential Hot Spots: Mali Invasion Force Grows Amid Delays
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November 11, 2012: The invasion to defeat Islamic terror groups in northern Mali now won’t take place until next year. The UN is willing to approve the operation but there will first be up to six months of training for the African troops involved. This includes upgrading the skills of the Mali Army and trying to remove the officers who staged a coup earlier in the year. France will send the first 200 troops to Mali in January, along with UAVs to gather intelligence on what is happening in northern Mali. ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) has expanded the list of nations contributing to the military operations in northern Mali. Now Algeria and South Africa will help as well and the ground force has been increased from 3,200 troops to 5,500. EU (European Union) members Germany, Poland, Spain, Italy, and France are meeting to organize logistical and air combat support for the AU (African Union) ground force. The United States is being asked to supply some technical assistance (satellite and UAV surveillance). Details of this plan are being worked out for presentation to the UN on November 26th.  

The UN believes it has underestimated the number of internal refugees from the violence in northern Mali. The previous count of 119,000 has been increased to 204,000. There are also 250,000 Malians who have fled the country to escape the violence. The Islamic radicals allow no alcohol, tobacco, CDs, radios, jewelry, traditional story tellers, dancing, or “un-Islamic dress.” They also don’t allow non-Moslems and all Christians have been driven out. The economy has shrunk because of that and the absence of tourists. This includes Africans and Arabs (who came to see now destroyed Islamic shrines) as well as Westerners. The Islamic shrines were destroyed because they did not conform to the al Qaeda view of Islam. Since the Islamic radicals arrived six months ago the north has become quieter, poorer, and more fearful of the future.

There are also thousands of armed men in the north who are increasingly willing to rebel against the Islamic terrorists. Many of these men belonged to tribal, clan, and area militias that initially resisted the Islamic gunmen but either surrendered or simply hid their weapons and blended in with the local population. Some joined refugees and are now outside the country in refugee camps. The Islamic radicals are more organized and fanatic fighters than the local militias, but some of the militia leaders are getting in touch with the Mali government to discuss cooperating with any invasion of the north. Al Qaeda efforts to disarm these militias have been only partially successful and the brutal search operations have made the locals even angrier.

November 9, 2012: In the north a leader of Islamic terrorist fighters has quit, along with dozens of his men and returned to Niger. Hicham Bilal was the only black African in the Islamic radical leadership up north and he accused the other leaders of being racist and lunatics. Arab and Tuareg disdain for black Africans is ancient and still common. Bilal led his men to join the invasion of northern Mali but was appalled to find many of his fellow Islamic radicals were involved in the drug trade and others were quite brutal in their treatment of black African Moslems living in northern Mali. Bilal’s complaints were ignored or derided, so he quit. He is being debriefed in Niger and is expected to provide a lot of useful information on the inner workings of the Islamic radical leadership in northern Mali.

November 8, 2012: A French citizen, Ibrahim Ouattara, was arrested in southern Mali after arriving from France and attempting to go north to join Islamic terror groups. Ouattara is of Malian ancestry and wanted in France for involvement in Islamic radical activities. Ouattara is the first French citizen caught trying to join the Islamic radicals in northern Mali but there are believed to be others. Niger is also stopping foreigners trying to cross into northern Mali. Algeria and Mauritania also border northern Mali and are halting likely Islamic terror recruits (especially those using European passports). But the desert border with northern Mali is huge and largely unguarded. The new recruits for the Islamic radical groups can always get through. There aren’t many of these fanatics but the Islamic radicals in northern Mali could use another few hundred volunteers from African, Arab, and European countries.

November 7, 2012: Islamic radical group Ansar Dine has agreed to allow foreign aid supplies free passage and to begin peace talks with the Mali government. There are 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 some control over the other two radical groups (who outnumber AQIM in Mali). Both these groups are sometimes at odds with Ansar Dine, which feels it should be in charge because it is Malian. Up until now all three groups cooperated in order to maintain their control of the north. Now Ansar Dine is negotiating with the Mali government for a separate peace and some kind of compromise over Tuareg autonomy in the north. In part this is because MUJAO and AQIM are bringing in reinforcements from Morocco, Western Sahara, Algeria, Pakistan, Egypt, Yemen, Nigeria, and Sudan and threaten to reduce the area Ansar Dine controls. Ansar Dine sees itself as the only Mali group in the Islamic radical government up north and is determined to defend Tuareg interests against the many foreigners in MUJAO (which has many Mali members) and especially AQIM (which wants to run everything). Ansar Dine sees AQIM as a bunch of gangsters, dependent on its relationship with drug gangs (al Qaeda moves the drugs north to the Mediterranean coast) and kidnappers (who hold Europeans for multi-million dollar ransoms). All this cash gives AQIM a lot of power, both to buy weapons and hire locals. With the high unemployment in the north and the image as Islamic warriors, working for AQIM is an attractive prospect for many young men.

October 27, 2012: In Timbuktu Islamic radicals used a bulldozer to destroy a monument to independence from France. The Islamic radicals decided that this was un-Islamic.

October 25, 2012: After months of hesitation Algeria has agreed to support an invasion of northern Mali. Algeria has long maintained a strict “non-intervention” policy. But after suffering through a war with Islamic radicals in the 1990s (that left over 100,000 dead), Algeria does not want its southern border swarming with Islamic terrorists based in northern Mali.

October 24, 2012: Mali has been readmitted to the AU, after being expelled last March because of a military coup.

October 21, 2012: In central Mali soldiers killed ten men they claimed were Islamic radicals from the north. The ten victims were Tuareg herders mistaken for radicals.

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