Mali: Fire In The North


May 29, 2014: In the north the MNLA (the main Tuareg rebel group) has reminded everyone that they are the power to deal up there. MNLA is again in the midst of negotiating a peace deal with the Mali government and has been assisting the French against Islamic terrorists since early 2013. That counter-terror effort continues. Earlier in May the Mauritanian Islamic terrorist group MUJAO (Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa) was forcibly reminded of MNLA primacy and suffered several dozen casualties as a result. Lesson learned, for now.

The French troops and UN peacekeepers stayed out of the recent fighting between MNLA and the army, except for a few dozen UN personnel who provided security for the prime minister during the aborted visit to Kidal. MNLA says the army started it all by firing on several truckloads of MNLA gunmen. The army says it was the other way around. The hostility between the army (almost entirely composed of black Africans from the south, where 90 percent of the population lives) and the Tuareg (a lighter skinned group related to Arabs and ancient Egyptians) goes back a long time. France warned Mali to be careful bringing soldiers back into the north. That advice was generally ignored and the troops began reverting to their traditional abusive attitudes towards the Tuaregs and Arabs who predominate in the north. After the MNLA seized control of Kidal on the 17th the UN immediately began trying to arrange peace talks. That took several days and resulted in a ceasefire deal. The Mali government criticized the UN and the French for not intervening. But the French and UN knew the MNLA had legitimate complaints about the government and that the soldiers in the north were causing more problems than they were solving. So the French and UN stood back and the MNLA reciprocated by accepting UN and French offers to quickly negotiate an end to the violence.

Because of the recent MNLA uprising France is delaying moving some of the troops from Mali to elsewhere in the region. So far this year French counter-terror efforts in northern Mali have left nearly a hundred Islamic terrorists dead. Most of these terrorists belonged to the North African al Qaeda organization ( Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or AQIM) and its smaller affiliates. Many terrorist bases, and large quantities of weapons, ammo and other equipment have been captured and destroyed. This has prevented the Islamic terrorists in the Sahel from launching any major attacks in over a year. In order to maintain the pressure France planned to establish a special force of 3,000 troops to fight Islamic terrorists throughout the Sahel (actually just Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso). This would include a thousand just in Mali and the rest ready to quickly move from bases elsewhere in the region to wherever the most Islamic terrorist activity had been detected. The Americans are a junior partners in this, providing satellite and UAV surveillance and other intel services (especially analysis and access to nearly all American data on Islamic terrorist activities in the region). All this is meant to keep the Islamic terrorists in the Sahel weak and disorganized.

There are currently 1,600 French troops in Mali and that was to reach a thousand by the end of the year. That reduction may be delayed depending on how the new situation between Mali and the MNLA works out. The UN peacekeeping force (MINUSMA, or Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) which is supposed to have 12,000 personnel but currently has only 8,000 is now providing most of the security in the north. African nations are unwilling or unable to come up all the peacekeepers the UN wants. The UN continues to press nations to contribute troops and equipment. So far there are contingents from Bangladesh, Benin, Britain, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Chad, China, Côte d'Ivoire, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Liberia, Mauritania, Nepal, Netherlands, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sweden, Switzerland, Togo, United States and Yemen. Some European countries (like Netherlands) have recently sent helicopters, which are badly needed. The peacekeepers have lost eight dead in the last year. The peacekeepers spend most of their time providing basic security. That involves running nearly a thousand armed patrols a month, which are essential to keep the few roads between towns and cities safe to use and limit the mobility of the remaining Islamic terrorists in area.

Government efforts to deal with rampant corruption included several investigations of state funded institutions. The state funded universities were found to be very corrupt, something that was no secret to the students and many employers. About five percent of the students had the money to pay bribes (a few hundred dollars) to professors who would pass a failing student. This practice angered other students because it was known in local businesses that some of the graduates were fakes because they had bribed their way to a degree. This tainted all graduates. Faculty organizations insist that only a few professors are involved in the corruption but the students believe it is much more widespread. In the north, this corruption has long been a major complaint against the southerners (who tend to be more corrupt than the northern tribes, if only because there’s more to steal in the south).

May 27, 2014: The Defense Minister resigned because of the failure of the army to deal with a Tuareg uprising last week. The military has long been one of the most corrupt and ineffective government institutions.

May 25, 2014: The government admitted that it had lost 50 soldiers dead and 48 wounded in last week’s fighting in the north. That’s more than twice what the MNLA suffered.

May 24, 2014: In the north (outside GAO) MNLA gunmen helped one of the smaller Tuareg separatist groups (the MAA) deal with a rebellious faction. There were several casualties and the unruly faction was no longer a problem.

May 23, 2014: The government and the Tuareg rebels (MNLA and several smaller groups) signed a ceasefire and ended two days of hostilities in and around Kidal. The ceasefire is a government admission that the army lost and essentially returns to the pre-uprising status but with government assurances that the long-promised peace talks with the Tuareg rebels would now get underway and in earnest. Prisoners (about 70 soldiers) are to be released and the MNLA gunmen will remain in the towns of Kidal, Ménaka and Ansongo. The MNLA will also keep the loot it acquired by defeating the army (50 4x4 vehicles, twelve armored vehicles, over a hundred firearms and several tons of ammo plus radios, computers and such). This makes it more difficult for the government to threaten MNLA again. The ceasefire lifts all rebel roadblocks and allows traffic (especially aid convoys) to move unimpeded. Over 4,000 people fled Kidal to avoid the fighting and are in desperate need of the aid.

May 21, 2014: An army effort to retake Kidal from MNLA gunmen failed. The soldiers retreated after suffering several dozen casualties during a few hours of intense fighting. The army blamed the defeat on help the MNLA had from gangsters and Islamic terrorist groups like al Qaeda, MUJAO and Ansar Dine. That is unlikely since the MNLA has been at war with the Islamic terrorist groups since late 2012.

May 20, 2014: The army concentrated over a thousand troops outside Kidal and began advancing on the Tuareg held city. The government issued press releases about an unopposed advance. It didn’t turn out that way.

May 18, 2014: The newly appointed prime minister fled south from Kidal, protected by UN bodyguards.  

May 17, 2014: In the north (Kidal) Tuareg separatists protesting the visit by the prime minister escalated into open rebellion. Over the next two days government officials and security forces were chased out of Kidal (and two other northern towns) by MNLA gunmen. At least eight civilians were killed and 30 taken prisoner (and released after a day or so). The Tuaregs were unhappy by government delays in negotiating a peace deal. The Tuaregs dominate the thinly populated desert north.

May 16, 2014: A recent national opinion poll found that 92 percent of Malians want the country to remain intact. The percentage was pretty much the same in the Tuareg north as it was in the south. What the Tuareg up north do want is more political and cultural autonomy.  

May 14, 2014: The IMF (International Monetary Fund) is holding up millions of dollars in aid to Mali until the government can explain some questionable recent financial transactions. The most obvious one is a government plan to spend $40 million on a long-range business jet for the president. There are also several hundred million in suspicious contracts for military supplies.

May 13, 2014: In the north (outside Kidal) three peacekeepers were wounded when their vehicle hit a mine.





Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close