French troops continue to be tied down going after Islamic terrorist bases in the northern mountains. Most of the Islamic terrorists up there have fled but they have left behind tons of weapons, ammo, and equipment. The French want to find and destroy that stuff before the terrorists have a chance to move it. This is taking longer than expected, but at least there are still terrorist targets to go after up there.
Meanwhile, ethnic and racial violence continues throughout the north, especially in the major cities. Black Africans living in the north, usually in the cities, are eager for revenge against Arabs (the most violent Islamic terrorists were Arab) and Tuaregs (the lighter skinned tribesmen of the north who have been regularly rebelling against the rule of the black African majority), and French troops have not been able to stop revenge attacks. Black Africans in the north will single out “light skin” (Arab or Tuareg) neighbors who seemed too friendly with the occupiers and demand that these people be punished. Malian troops have arrested hundreds of these collaborators, who are usually eager to cooperate. But some of the “lights” have been tortured and at least a few killed. The soldiers say they are punishing murderers and rapists. Despite that racial violence continues in the north.
This sort of animosity between dark skinned Africans and lighter skinned people from the north has been around as long as the two groups have been in contact. Arabs first moved south of the Sahara in large numbers over a thousand years ago and often came as conquerors and slavers. Although many of the black Africans encountered converted to Islam, the lighter skinned Arabs (including the Tuareg and Berbers of North Africa) considered themselves superior. This racist attitude has persisted and the black Africans often reciprocate. This is one reason why the largely Tuareg of northern Mali constantly rebel. Not only is the Mali government corrupt but it is dominated by black Africans, which is what 90 percent of Malians are. Officially, Islam and most African governments deny that such ethnic tensions exist. This in itself is progress, but the animosities remain and often become quite deadly. The slaving also continues and often gets into the news. This most recently occurred in Sudan where the government encouraged Arabized tribes to raid non-Moslem black African tribes and take slaves. Retreating al Qaeda men sometimes took newly enslaved blacks with them. Many old customs die hard in this part of the world. Yet there is also a tradition of tolerance between the blacks and the lights, but the corruption of the black dominated elected government has caused growing resentment from the Tuaregs of the north. Al Qaeda does not openly preach racism but it implies that Arabs and other “lights” will prevail over blacks in areas where the two groups are present. In all black countries like Nigeria, all black Islamic terror groups like Boko Haram promise that Moslems will dominate non-Moslems.
The Islamic terrorists can still operate in populated areas of the north because most of the population up there is Tuareg and Arab. The Tuaregs predominate but to the blacks the Tuaregs and Arabs are both “lights” and potential enemies. The Tuaregs have actually been in northern Mali longer than the blacks and feel the region belongs to them. But 19th century borders drawn by European colonial governments are considered sacrosanct in Africa, which had few permanent borders before the Europeans arrived two centuries ago (and largely departed fifty years ago). Most Tuaregs didn’t like the Islamic radicals, but if some move into your neighborhood and threaten to kill anyone who talks to the military, it will be hard to tell the bad guys from the other Tuareg civilians.
There are still nearly a half a million refugees created by the year of violence in the north. Some 290,000 people fled to other parts of Mali while 177,000 went to Mauritania, Niger, and Burkina Faso. There are still food shortages in the north, caused by the Islamic radicals and their policies. Over a million refugees and inhabitants of the north need food aid.
The UN wants to expand the Mali peacekeeping force from 7,000 to 11,000. While most of these peacekeepers will be in the north, some are also needed in the south, where the Mali Army still refuses to halt its interference in the government. Getting the money and troops for the larger force may not be possible because donor countries are tired of the constant demands for troops and cash from African countries.
The Islamic terrorists are still active in the north. No one knows how many there are but there appear to be several hundred of them, organized into five or more gangs. They are planting mines in roads and launching several terror attacks a week. More peacekeepers would make it possible to put regular checkpoints on the few roads and limit the mobility of terrorists (or the growing number of bandits). The terrorists tend to stay outside the cities, where they find shelter in Tuareg villages. Inside the cities black African residents will report Islamic terrorist activity, even if it involves the few black Islamic terrorists.
French troops have found over seven tons of weapons and ammo in the northern mountains so far. Most of it has been destroyed were found by French engineers. Over half this stuff was stolen from the Malian Army when the Tuareg rebels and their al Qaeda allies took control of the north a year ago, but some of it had been smuggled in from other countries.
The Mali Army says it has lost 64 soldiers in the north this year and that at least 600 Islamic terrorists have been killed. French troops and their African allies have lost about 40 dead.
Although the Mali government is sending administrators and bureaucrats north to revive local government up north, Tuareg rebels, who have allied themselves with the French, are setting up their own government, especially in and around Kidal. This could lead to a resumption of fighting between Tuareg and Mali troops.
April 1, 2013: In Timbuktu Malian troops searched several neighborhoods for Islamic terrorist safe houses and weapons storage sites. Over the last few days terror attacks in the city have left seven dead.
March 31, 2013: Inside Timbuktu several Islamic terrorists fired on Malian troops. This led to a day-long gun battle that left four terrorists, a soldier, and a civilian dead. France sent in fifty troops and a warplane to help the Malians. Civilians in the city claim that more civilians were killed by the cross fire.
March 30, 2013: In Timbuktu a suicide bomber attacked a checkpoint outside the city, wounding a Mali soldier. This attack was believed to be a diversion to allow several vehicles carrying other terrorists to get into the city.
March 28, 2013: France announced that it would keep its 4,000 troops in Mali until July, and at that point half would be withdrawn. By the end of this year there will be only a thousand French troops in Mali. That could change if the UN sponsored peacekeeping force does not show up or proves ineffective.