Despite constant pressure from 9,000 French troops and African peacekeepers Islamic terrorists in northern Mali continue to fight back. Since the Islamic terrorists were shut down up there in mid-2013 the peacekeepers have suffered 30 dead and over a hundred wounded. Another 13 civilian support personnel were killed. The persistence of the Islamic terrorists in the area is not just about ideology, but money. Islamic terrorists have, for about a decade, been running a very profitable cocaine smuggling operation that runs from Guinea-Bissau (where the stuff is flown or shipped in from South America) and then moved north to the Mediterranean coast and finally the more than four million cocaine users in Europe. This effort brings in over $100 million a year for the Islamic terrorists involved and has proved impossible to shut down. The French move into northern Mali in 2013 disrupted the cocaine operation, but the smugglers reorganized and, thanks to all that cash, were able to hire new people (and bribe new officials) to get the shipments moving north again.
A final peace deal with the rebellious Tuareg in the north is stalled because the black majority in the south does not want to grant as much autonomy as the Tuaregs demand. The two groups have always been at odds but were only united in the same country by the colonial French in the 19th century. Like most African countries, dividing the nation is not considered an option and the colonial borders are considered sacrosanct.
The French are also trying to arrange a suitable (to both sides) deal to prevent a repeat of 2012 (when Tuareg tribal rebels with the help of al Qaeda affiliated Islamic terrorists chased out government forces out of northern Mali and declared a separate Tuareg state. This caused the Mali Army to mutiny (because of lack of support from the corrupt government) down south and take over the government for a while. T
he thinly populated northern two-thirds of the country has a population of less than two million, out of 15 million for all of Mali. The north was very poor in the best of times, and over a year of Islamic terrorist government halted tourism (a major source of income, especially in the three major cities) and the movement of many goods. Al Qaeda, better financed and more fanatic, soon took over from the tribal rebels. The Tuareg rebels had objected to the imposition of Islamic law, but the Islamic radical gunmen drove the Tuareg fighters out of the cities and large towns. There were only about 2,000 Islamic terrorists up north during 2012 when they declared the area a sanctuary and base for Islamic radicals. Then the few thousand Tuareg rebels began negotiating with the Mali government about cooperation. France unexpectedly sent troops in January 2013. This was triggered in part by al Qaeda efforts to invade southern Mali in addition to setting up terrorist training camps in the north. The bold French move paid off, although Mali still has internal problems (mainly corruption) and an unhappy Tuareg majority in the north. Now the Tuaregs are threatening to rebel again. The head of the 2012 military coup is now under arrest and facing trial. The elected Mali government is back in power but appears to be as corrupt as ever and under growing pressure from donor nations to either clean up the corruption or see most of the aid disappear.
January 4, 2015: In the north (outside Gao) six Niger peacekeepers were wounded when their truck was hit by a roadside bomb. Elsewhere in that area gunmen stopped four UN supply trucks, ordered the drivers out and then set the trucks on fire.
January 1, 2015: In the north (near Gao) the mayor of a town and his son were killed by Islamic terrorist gunfire. Attacks on local officials are meant to encourage cooperation with the Islamic terrorists operating in the area.
December 29, 2014: In the north (outside Tessalit) Islamic terrorists fired at least nine rockets at a base used by French, peacekeeper and Mali troops. There were no casualties or damage.
December 18, 2014: In the north (near Kidal) three peacekeepers were wounded when they were attacked with a roadside bomb.
December 14, 2014: France announced that in the last year its forces had killed nearly 200 Islamic terrorists in Africa (mostly in Mali). This was carried out by 3,000 French troops deployed in Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad with the help of over 6,000 African peacekeepers in Mali. Most of the French activity is in northern Mali along the Algerian border. France and Algeria also recently announced more cooperation in fighting Islamic terrorism, especially along Algeria’s southern borders.
December 12, 2014: France confirmed that in order to get the last French citizen held captive in Mali released on the 9th France agreed to release four members of AQIM
(Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) held in Mali prisons. The freed Frenchman had been held for three years after having been kidnapped in Mali. He was apparently held most of the time in neighboring Niger. At first France reported that they made the prisoner exchange rather than see the French captive killed and that the French government would admit nothing. This is an effort to placate other Western nations who all agree it is best not to negotiate with the Islamic terrorists because that only encourages them to kidnap more Westerners because they are assured of a reward. European governments, in particular, are prone to breaking this pact because of media and political pressure. France has now admitted to the exchange after details of it became widely known in Mali and there were protests there because some of those released were being tried for murder. Mali also admitted that, in the past, it had also traded imprisoned terrorists for Malians held captive and threatened with death.
China reported that the 395 peacekeepers it had sent to Mali in early 2013 returned home in September after being replaced by another 395 troops (who will also serve for none months). Stationed near Gao, the first contingent of Chinese troops carried out 697 missions (usually patrol or convoy escort) in addition to providing security for their base (which Islamic terrorists fired 31 rockets at). China did not report casualties or injuries suffered by their peacekeepers.
December 10, 2014: In the north (near Gao) French troops clashed with Islamic terrorists and killed Ahmed al Tilemsi one of the founders and leaders of
MUJAO (Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa) along with at least a dozen other gunmen.
Tilemsi had a $5 million price on his head.
MUJAO is basically a Mauritanian faction of AQIM and there was always some tension between the two groups. AQIM had the most money and weapons and used this to exercise some control over MUJAO and Ansar Dine when the three groups controlled the north in 2012. The other two radical groups outnumbered AQIM in Mali. MUJAO and AQIM were sometimes at odds with Ansar Dine, which felt it should be in charge because it was Malian. After the French led an invasion of the north in early 2013 MUJAO, which had occupied and run GAO fled with some of the surviving members moving across the nearby border to Niger while other headed for southern Libya. In the last year MUJAO has begun returning to the Gao area. That has proved dangerous as this incident demonstrated. Captured documents from this clash will shed more light on MUJAO intentions and capabilities.