Over a thousand armed Islamic terrorists are believed to remain in the north. The security forces up there (foreign peacekeepers, mostly African, Malian troops and pro-government Tuareg militias) have made life very difficult for the Islamic terrorists. These outlaws can get by in remote villages if they have cash to pay the locals for supplies and silence. But terrorist activity tends to be noted by the intelligence network the French have established. Using aerial reconnaissance and electronic monitoring as well as a network of tribal informers (especially among the Tuareg) the French find out about anything out-of-the-ordinary and can react quickly with aerial surveillance (via UAV) and smart bombs or Hellfire missiles. French troops then show up to collect evidence, or arrive first if it’s unclear, from the air, who to hit with a missile or bomb. The Islamic terrorists are trying to adapt. Even though many of the French troops are pulling out, the bombers and UAVs remain. Some of the African peacekeepers are also very good fighters and the French intelligence network is still there as well. Most Islamic terrorists simply moved to Libya, Niger or other areas in the region. But al Qaeda wants to resume using Mali for its drug smuggling operation and some of the Islamic terrorists are from northern Mali. So al Qaeda provides cash to maintain some people in what is a hostile atmosphere. The Islamic terrorists are still there and some will be there no matter how intense the counterterrorism efforts are. So the pain remains the same, although there’s a lot less of it now.
Mali remains as poor and dysfunctional as ever. Donor countries are encouraging the government to crack down on the corruption but too many Malians still find this an unnatural act and are not comfortable with it. Most Malians would like a clean government but not enough of those with the skills or connections to get a leadership role in the government are willing to make a stand for a corruption-free administration. It happens in Africa, but not easily.
There are still about 200,000 refugees from the north down in the south. The economic and security situation in the north is still too unsettled to encourage all refugees to return. In the south they have security, which makes it easier for the foreign aid groups to operate and provide food and other necessities. Why risk that by going home to the north where Islamic terrorists and bandits are still roaming about and the economy is still a shambles. At its peak last year there were 350,000 refugees, and many people did return home or settle in the south outside refugee camps. After all, most of the refugees were originally southerners. Some still had family and other connections down south. But many did not and they are stuck in the camps.
The unrest in northern Mali is part of a larger problem common throughout the Sahel (the semi-desert region below the Sahara Desert that stretches from the Atlantic to the Red Sea). There are too many people, not enough water but not enough incentive or opportunity for the people to move or agree among themselves to settle the many disputes over limited resources. That’s because for over half a century there has been a growing number of aid efforts that prevent mass starvation but not much else.
This all began a thousand years ago when the population of the Sahel was less than a tenth of what it is now. A century ago, the Sahel population had already doubled. Now it's more than twelve times larger than it was back when much of the land was well watered and usable for grazing or crops. All this population growth was because of superior Western technology and public health practices. Yeah, it's all the fault of the evil Westerners, but long-term climate change is actually the larger villain. The Sahel has been dry for the last 1,500 years. During the last ice age, which ended 12,000 years ago, the Sahel was more like the American Midwest. But ever since the ice age ended, it kept getting drier and drier. That was happening even during the time of the Roman Empire, and the people back then noticed, and even left us a few notes on the matter. All this has been well documented.
Normally the increasingly severe droughts in the Sahel would halt population growth and force people to move south to where there was more water. That was happening until the Europeans showed up in the 19th century with all their technology and rules. By the 1960s the Europeans were largely gone but they left behind lots of life-saving tech and borders. The borders made it more difficult for starving populations to flee the Sahel. The West responded with food aid to the Sahel and that was so successful that the populations in the Sahel kept growing in an area that could not sustain them. So now we have constant conflict across the Sahel. Thus is should be no surprise that Islamic terrorist activity in North Africa and the Sahel increased 60 percent in 2013. This was a result of the aftermath of the Arab Spring uprisings that overthrew the governments of Libya and Tunisia. That contributed to the rebellion in northern Mali in 2012. Eliminating the police state governments of Tunisia and Libya, and freeing many Islamic terrorists from prison, was a huge boost to these terrorist organizations and it’s going to take a while to undo the damage. These Islamic terrorists find many eager recruits in the Sahel, because there are few other prospects there for young men.
In response France, Italy, Britain, Spain, the Netherlands and Germany have joined with most North African and Sahel in an agreement to share information on Islamic terrorists operating in northern Africa and the Sahel. The European countries will offer military and economic assistance in fighting Islamic terrorism in the region, especially to nations down there that cooperate. That does not address the fundamental problem of too many people in a region that is becoming more inhospitable decade by decade.
February 26, 2014: In the north, two foreign aid workers were wounded when their vehicle hit a landmine near the local airport.
February 20, 2014: Germany has agreed to contribute more troops to form a joint French-German brigade in Mali. There are 102 German troops in Mali now and another 150 are on the way. By the end of the year there will be closer to a thousand, matching the number of French troops in Mali and enough to fill out the Franco-German peacekeeping brigade.
February 18, 2014: In the north Tuareg and Arab rebels agreed to confine their armed men in 30 locations (camps and compounds) which will receive foreign aid. This will continue until a long-term peace deal can be worked out with the government. Those who violate this deal will be hunted down by foreign peacekeepers. This is an incentive to stay put because the African and French peacekeepers have demonstrated their ability to find and kill armed men who are causing problems.
February 16, 2014: In the north (Timbuktu) three rockets landed on the outskirts of the city but the explosions caused no damage or casualties.
February 11, 2014: An Islamic terrorist group announced it had, on the 8th, kidnapped the five Malians working for the Red Cross and another foreign group. The kidnappers said they were from MOJWA
(Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, largely composed of black African Islamic radicals and led by Mauritanians). That was odd because MOJWA was now supposed to be part of a new group. In August 2013 some al Qaeda dissidents created Al Mourabitoun by merging with MOJWA. As many suspected the creation of Al Mourabitoun involved only some factions of
MOJWA. This makes sense as Al Mourabitoun is led by Arabs while MOJWA was unique among Islamic terrorist groups because its leadership is black African and many MOJWA men were not happy about taking orders from Arabs. Al Mourabitoun appears to be operating outside Mali (in Niger and Libya) but some MOJWA men are obviously still in Mali and looking for a payday to help them survive. By early March there was no news about ransom negotiations. That’s because the official police with most Western and African nations is not to pay ransom. That’s because the cash just funds more kidnappings and other bad behavior. The unofficial policy in many countries is to pay the ransom and say you didn’t.
February 8, 2014: In the north (between Gao and Kidal) a vehicle with five Malian aid workers disappeared.
February 7, 2014: In the north (near Gao) Islamic terrorists from
MOJWA ambushed two vehicles and killed 24 Tuareg civilians. Six more Tuareg were killed in a nearby camp. MOJWA accused the Tuareg of being traitors for making peace with the French and the Mali government. There 30 deaths were originally blamed on tribal tensions (over disputed grazing land) but it was later found to be MOJWA was at fault.