The EU is trying to professionalize the Mali military and has 580 trainers there to improve the skills of the troops. At this point about half the 18,000 Mali military personnel have had some of this training and the assessment of the trainers is that it will take at least ten years of effort to professionalize the military. It takes so long because you have to train and monitor officers and NCOs as they serve for years and advance in rank and experience. It’s the officers who can quickly destroy a well trained and equipped military and it takes a long time to show officers how to avoid the temptation to allow corruption to keep the military weak and unreliable. Corruption in general is the root cause of most economic and political problems in Africa (and worldwide).
The Islamic terrorists are not strong enough to again take control of any part of the country but they continue to be disruptive. There have been about 200 Islamic terrorist related acts of violence in Mali this year, 80 percent of them in the north. The main source of this violence is AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) which was formed in 2007 from several of the 1990s era Algerian groups. AQIM now operates throughout northern and west-central Africa. Because AQIM leadership still contains a lot of Algerians the Algerian government has been helpful to African nations where AQIM is operating. AQIM now spends most of its time smuggling drugs, people and whatever else pays (like kidnapping Westerners). AQIM carries out or sponsors (with money, weapons and advice) smaller groups to carry out attacks and share the credit. AQIM likes to stay in the headlines.
Two of the most active AQIM affiliates are in Mali, mainly because the government there has not yet resolved the ethnic feuds that have been a problem since the nation was formed in 1960. The oldest AQIM affiliate in Mali is Ansar Dine which was formed in the north near Timbuktu (because many of its leaders and members came from the area). Ansar Dine was unique in that it was the only Islamic terrorist group from Mali and was formed in 2012 by Tuareg Islamic radicals who were formerly secular rebels. Ansar Dine always saw itself as the only Malian group in AQIM, which many Malians consider 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 gave AQIM a lot of power, both to buy weapons and hire locals. After France chased most Islamic terrorists out of the north in 2013 Ansar Dine became the main AQIM representative in Mali because it was not considered foreign and thus able to survive among kinsmen.
In central Mali the FLM (Macina Liberation Front) was created in 2015 with the help, and example, of Ansar Dine. FLM is composed mostly of young Fulani men. The Fulani tribes of central Mali are producing a growing number of recruits for Islamic terrorists. FLM openly identifies with the Fulani (Macina are the local branch of the Fulani). FLM became active in early 2015 and since then has claimed responsibility for a growing number of attacks. It started out with calls for Fulani people to live according to strict Islamic rules. That in turn led to violence against tribal and village leaders who opposed this. That escalated to attacks on businesses and government facilities. FLM considers Ansar Dine their friend and ally mainly because Ansar Dine was inspired by al Qaeda but was always composed of Malians, mainly Tuareg, northern Arabs and some Fulani. Although most Malians are Moslem few want anything to do with Islamic terrorism. But the Fulani have always seen themselves as a people apart, an attitude common with the nomadic peoples from the Sahel (the semi-desert area between the Sahara and the much greener areas to the south). That makes joining FLM more attractive to young men, especially since the Fulani have also been involved with smuggling for a long time and that is seen as an acceptable profession. Another thing that sets the Fulani apart is that still think of themselves as nomadic and thus don’t really believe in borders.
December 11, 2016: The EU (European Union) and Mali signed an agreement whereby Mali agrees to accept the return of illegal migrants who got into Europe but were denied asylum. Since early 2015 more than 10,000 Malians have illegally entered EU nations. Mali will receive $154 million from the EU for programs associated with the returned illegals and helping to prevent future illegal migration. These deals usually involve local officials taking some of the money, unofficially, as compensation for agreeing to the deal. Mali also depends on the EU for a lot of economic and security assistance so the agreement was something of an offer they couldn’t refuse.
Part of the EU assistance is paying for 13,000 peacekeepers currently in Mali, mostly in the north and mostly armed (although many perform support functions). In addition France has 4,000 troops operating in Mali and adjacent countries to suppress Islamic terrorist organizations. The EU has made similar refugee return deals with other African countries and the general agreement includes nations adjacent to Mali (especially Algeria) being allowed to send back illegal Mali migrants who got caught while passing through on their way to Europe. Some of these migrants will try to settle in Algeria if they cannot get to Europe and the Algerians do not want illegals.
December 6, 2016: In central Mali (Segou) five Islamic terrorists attacked a prison at 2 AM, freeing 97 prisoners and wounding two guards. Islamic terror group FLM was suspected as some of the prisoners were there, mostly for FLM related crimes.
December 1, 2016: In the north (outside Gao, near the Niger border) fighting again broke out between pro-government and former rebel (separatist) Tuareg militias. Before it could be halted at least one tribesman was killed and over a dozen wounded.
November 29, 2016: In the north (Timbuktu) Islamic terrorists fired two rockets at the airport. There was no damage or injuries. Elsewhere in the north an AQIM (Al Mourabitoun) truck bomb destroyed recently built hangers at the airport used for UN and peacekeeper aircraft. A second truck bomb did not go off and was captured and bomb disabled.
November 28, 2016: France believes a recent airstrike in southern Libya killed Islamic terrorist leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar. The French jets were operating from a carrier off the Libyan coast. The U.S. has long offered a $5 million reward for information that would lead to the death or capture of Belmokhtar. He is a veteran AQIM leader and went on to found and lead AQIM affiliate al Mourabitoun. Belmokhtar was responsible for many high-profile attacks in Libya, Algeria, Niger and Mali since 2011. Al Mourabitoun and AQIM continue to survive in Libya because of the chaos there. He has survived several attempts (in 2013, 2014 and 2015) to kill him and has a reputation for being elusive. AQIM has not yet confirmed his demise.
November 23, 2016: Mali had a record grain harvest this year and will be able to feed the population without need for imports and will be able to export a surplus to neighboring nations.
November 20, 2016: The first national elections since 2013 were held. Five soldiers and one civilian were killed by Islamic terrorists trying to prevent the election (because they believe democracy is un-Islamic). Voter turnout was low, more because of dissatisfaction with government performance than because of Islamic terrorist threats.
November 19, 2016: In central Mali a major Fulani militia from the Peuhl tribe agreed to disband. The Peuhl have long been fighting separatist Tuareg tribes to the north as well as government forces.