French counter-terrorism efforts in the north have killed at least 40 Islamic terrorists this month. This included at least one senior leader. Some of the success this month is attributed to the more powerful sensors on the two Reaper UAVs France recently purchased and moved to an airbase in Niger (which borders northern Mali). This, coupled with the French informer network, enables tips to be quickly confirmed and troops or smart bombs quickly dispatched to capture or kill the terrorists. The French are also using more of their Tiger helicopter gunships, which are often used to give troops air support. The French only recently began receiving Tiger and only a few are in Mali. Because of their short range Tiger cannot cover as much of northern Mali as the jets armed with smart bombs.
The continued success of the counter-terrorism effort and the equally determined efforts by Islamic terrorists to maintain a presence in northern Mali anyway has led France to set up a permanent base in the north. This would be similar to the base it has long maintained on the other end of Africa in Djibouti. Since September 11, 2001 that base has been shared with the Americans and the Mali base is expected to see a lot of Americans helping out. France has about 1,600 troops in northern Mali and that appears to be about what it will take to staff the permanent base. France is particularly concerned about the continuing unrest in Libya and the ability of Islamic terrorists to establish bases and training facilities there. Because of all that, this year there have been several incidents of Islamic terrorists moving into northern Mali from Libya and until the Libyan government establishes some control over the many Islamic terrorists roaming Libya, more will show up in northern Mali.
The U.S. has concluded that North Africa and the Sahel (the semi-desert area just below the Sahara) should be the focus of major counter-terrorism efforts. France is the ideal partner in this because the French have better political and business connections throughout the Sahel. Many countries here used to be French colonies and French policy has been to stay in touch with the former colonies. Critics warn the French that such a base in northern Mali will simply be a terrorist target. Other French bases in the region have had no such problems and some French military officials joke that it helps intel efforts if Islamic terrorists are attracted to the base. The French have demonstrated skill at establishing local informant networks and the bases aid in that because if an informant gets in trouble the base is a secure sanctuary for burned agents and the French will get useful agents out of the country if it has to. Exile in France is not seen as a bad thing by most Africans, especially if they can take their families along. The U.S. has a similar program. Keeping local agents alive is essential if you hope to recruit good ones.
Disputes within the
MNLA (the main Tuareg rebel group in the north) have caused a large number of MNLA members to go off during March and form the CPA (
Coalition for the People of Azawad), which claims to be more willing to negotiate a peace deal that keeps the north as part of Mali. Many in MNLA want a degree of autonomy for the Tuareg north that would leave more numerous blacks in the south with little say in the Tuareg north. A
utonomy is what the black majority in the south is not interested in granting. Early in 2014 MNLA walked away from UN arranged peace negotiations because of this. The UN and France point out that the Tuareg (who are related to the ancient Egyptians, not the darker complexioned Bantu peoples of the south) have refused to submit to outside rule for thousands of years and it would be wise to grant them their autonomy and move on.
MNLA means (in French) “Liberation Army of Azawad”. That is the Tuareg term for their homeland in northern Mali and until the June 2013 MNLA cease fire deal its capital was Kidal. The Mali government was upset that MNLA men had controlled most of the rural (and very thinly populated) areas in the north for over a year after yet another Tuareg rebellion broke out up there in early 2012. The French point out that the Tuareg rebels have been defeating black African troops from the south for generations and there’s no quick fix for that. The more immediate threat are the Islamic terrorists and Tuareg cooperation is essential for dealing with the likes of AQIM, Al Mourabitoun and Ansar Dine.
The Islamic terrorists are largely Arab and Tuareg and their goal, for all intents and purposes is to enslave the majority black African population of Mali by imposing a religious dictatorship. Black Africans in general do not want to be ruled by Arabs, who look down on black Africans and have been enslaving and exploiting them for over a thousand years. Many Malians understand what the Arab Islamic terrorists are up to here but the Mali leadership is often distracted by power struggles and getting rich (via corruption). It’s a sad situation with no easy solution. The MNLA is losing patience with the stalled peace talks and the MNLA leadership fears they are losing control of many of their members who are willing to resume the fight. France has persuaded the MNLA leadership to continue trying to keep their hotheads in check but the Mali government responded by accusing the French of being MNLA allies. Apparently the hardliners still dominate the MNLA leadership because the breakaway CPA consists largely run by more moderate Tuaregs. The longer the government stalls on negotiating the fate of the north, the fewer moderates there will be up there. The UN points out that foreign aid will be difficult to obtain if there is another Tuareg uprising that is seen to be the result of the Mali government refusing to negotiate. Down south the problem is that any concessions to the Tuareg is political poison and most of the politicians down there are ready to jump on anyone who “gives in” to the Tuareg.
In addition to the ethnic element, there are still a lot of Islamic terrorists and radicals in northern Mali. Three different Islamic radical groups (Ansar Dine, MUJAO and AQIM) took control of the northern portion of the country in 2012 but were largely run out in early 2013 by a French-led force. Along the way the three groups were often battling each other and the three still survive, in much diminished numbers, in the north.
Ansar Dine (which controlled Timbuktu) was from Mali and led by Tuareg Islamic radicals. MUJAO (Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa) controlled Gao and was from neighboring Mauritania. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has members from all over North Africa, but mostly from Algeria. MUJAO (also known as MUJWA) is basically a Mauritanian faction of AQIM and there was some tension between the two groups. AQIM had the most money and weapons and used this to exercise some control over the other two radical groups (who outnumbered AQIM in Mali). Both these groups are sometimes at odds with Ansar Dine, which felt it should be in charge because it was Malian. Until late 2012 all three groups cooperated in order to maintain their control of the north. Then Ansar Dine began negotiating with the Mali government for a separate peace and some kind of compromise over Tuareg autonomy in the north. In part this was because MUJAO and AQIM were bringing in reinforcements from Morocco, Western Sahara, Algeria, Pakistan, Egypt, Yemen, Nigeria, and Sudan and threatened to reduce the area Ansar Dine controlled. Ansar Dine saw itself as the only Malian group in the Islamic radical government up north and was determined to defend Tuareg interests against the many foreigners in MUJAO (which also has Malian members) and especially AQIM (which wanted to run everything). Ansar Dine saw AQIM as 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. With the high unemployment in the north and the impressive image of Islamic warriors, working for AQIM was an attractive prospect for many young men. Most of those new recruits deserted as their employers fled the advancing French. The Tuareg members of MUJAO and Ansar Dine could find locals in the north to shelter them while the foreigners (mainly from AQIM) had to flee in early 2013 because they were too easily spotted by Mali civilians and pointed out to the French, Malian and other African troops who now occupy the north. In the first six months of 2013 all three groups suffered heavy losses in Mali, either from deaths or desertions. Many non-Mali Islamic terrorists fled and sought new groups to join. There was some good hiding places in the far north, near the Algerian and Libyan borders and this is where the French have been looking intently since late 2013.
Most Malians (at least in the south where 90 percent of the population lives) are paying a lot of attention to the prosecution of two former national leaders;
Amadou Toumani Toure, who was removed by an army coup in March 2012 as a result of the successful Tuareg uprising in the north) and Amadou Sanogo, who led the March 2012 coup. Toure has been in power since the 1990s and is accused of corruption. Sanogo is accused of killing those who opposed his military government. In 2013 the interim government persuaded Sanogo to retire on a general’s pension. This deal was thought to include some guarantees that Sanogo would not be prosecuted for his role in the coup. Earlier (in May) Sanogo apologized for his actions and promised to help repair the damage. After the 2013 French invasion Sanogo and his fellow mutineers kept their weapons and managed to hold onto some power. The mutineers also quickly agreed to restore civilian government. In effect, the mutineers just stepped back, and never surrendered.
For his good behavior and decision to make himself useful, Sanogo was promoted. Sanogo remained an opponent of corruption but was still considered a threat to the wealthy families and prominent politicians he deposed in 2012. The families of those killed by Sanogo’s supporters last year are angry and with Sanogo disarmed and out of uniform the search for bodies of his victims yielded several mass graves. Sanogo allies are also threatened and if the new government doesn’t do better than the last one there will be another coup, and probably a more brutal one.
Many Malians believe that the core problem is the endemic corruption. Both Toure and Sanogo openly pledged to do something about the corruption. Toure actually did and was much more effect than his very corrupt and brutal predecessors. But in absolute terms Toure was corrupt, because that’s how you get things done in Mali. Sanogo feels he did the best he could and is now being prosecuted to please the foreigners and the wealthy Malian families his coup threatened.
March 22, 2014: The UN has discovered massive fraud among Malian refugees who fled to Burkina Faso. Initial registration of refugees there yielded over 100,000 people and aid was distributed to that number. But when some staff began to suspect double-dipping (refugees signing up multiple times or for dependents they did not have) a reregistration program was undertaken which included the use of electronic devices that can quickly capture fingerprints and iris scans. When that process was complete there were only 34,000 refugees. The main offenders were the Tuareg, who tried to get around the biometrics by making deals to borrow local children (for a fee) to pretend to be refugees. The extra aid supplies would be sold in markets. The hired children scam can be handled by questioning the bogus kids and their “parents”. Another problem is local aid officials who tolerate the double-dipping. Sometimes corruption is involved but often the foreign aid officials are simply eager to get their “clients” as much aid as possible, any way they can. This sort of thing used to be kept quiet but is now widely known in the donor nations and is another reason why the UN is having a hard time getting donor nations to give.
March 21, 2014: The U.S. State Department issued a travel warning advising Americans to stay away from northern Mali (because of bandits and Islamic terrorists) and the Mauritanian border in general (kidnappers, some of them Islamic terrorists).
March 15, 2014: The leader of MUJAO (Abu Dar Dar), long sought by the French, turned himself in. The increasing success of aerial reconnaissance followed by smart bomb attacks may have had something to do with it.
March 14, 2014: In the north a French smart bomb killed a prominent Islamic terrorist leader (Omar Ould Hamaha) who has worked for al Qaeda, Ansar Dine and MUJAO. The U.S. offered a $3 million reward for Hamaha, dead or alive. Humaga is also close with even more notorious Islamic terrorist leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar. So taking Hamaha alive would have been preferable. Unfortunately guys like this know they are being tracked and targeted and stay on the move. Trying to organize a ground operation to capture him alive risked having him move and disappear again.
March 11, 2014: Islamic terrorist groups are calling on their followers in the West to carry out attacks on, and preferably in, France. This is revenge for French success at crushing Islamic terrorist groups in Mali and a desperate effort to use the threat of terror to get the French to withdraw from Mali. That is unlikely. The French have tried appeasement in the past and found that Islamic terrorists were divided into too many factions, including many would not make deals, or if they did would not keep their end of the bargain. The French and many other European nations learned that lesson the hard way over the last three decades and are less and less willing to cut the Islamic terrorists any slack. It’s become a death match.
March 8, 2014: Officials from Mali and Algeria met in Algeria to work out ways the two countries could improve security on their mutual border. Mali is being very cooperative because they want the border reopened. Algeria closed the official border crossings in January 2013 to make it more difficult for Islamic terrorists to get into Algeria from Mali. This shut down trade and that hurt Mali more than Algeria. Meanwhile Algeria sent more troops to the border area and went after the smugglers and others trying to cross illegally. Mali is willing to coordinate efforts to secure the border and if a mutually agreeable deal can be worked out the border will reopen.