Mali: Fear And Loathing In The Desert

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June 28, 2014: The June 15 agreement by the government to negotiate a peace deal with the Tuareg is bad news for AQIM and other Islamic terrorists in the north because the Tuareg are native to the north and comprise most of the population there. After dealing with foreign Islamic terrorists during the 2012 al Qaeda “occupation” of the north most Tuareg have lost their enthusiasm for Islamic terrorists. The foreigners (most of them Arab) were found to be arrogant and disdainful of Tuaregs. There is an Arab minority in the north, but these Arabs have learned to respect the Tuareg and generally get along. Some of the Malian Arabs will help the Islamic terrorists, but most are reluctant to do so lest they be discovered and driven out or killed.

The peace talks with the largely black southerners can still come to nothing as there has long been mutual fear and loathing between Tuaregs and the southern majority. All both sides can agree on at this point is that continued fighting favors no one except the Islamic terrorists. The negotiations also have to deal with the fact that the southerners are still humiliated at how the Tuareg defeated the largely southern (black) army in 2012 and again in May 2014 when the army tried to take control of Kidal. Many southern soldiers understand that the main reason the better armed and more numerous soldiers continually get defeated by the Tuareg irregulars is because of the massive corruption in the south. This means a lot of the money allocated to the military is stolen and many senior officers are there because of political loyalty and corruption, not any skill in military affairs. Southern politicians don’t like to discuss this and the most corrupt ones will not even acknowledge this problem exists. Meanwhile many southerners now have another reason to fear and mistrust the Tuareg; the fact that some of them are attracted to Islamic terrorism. The southerners are largely Moslem but not attracted to Islamic radicalism at all. Ten percent of Malians (mostly blacks) are Christian or still follow the ancient tribal religions. Most southerners fear and despise Islamic radicalism and see the Tuareg as “infected” with this “disease.” One thing the negotiations must do is convince the southerners that few (too few to really matter) Tuaregs still support Islamic terrorism.

Most of the remaining terrorists in the north belong to the North African al Qaeda organization ( Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or AQIM) and its smaller affiliates (like MUJAO) . Many terrorist bases, and large quantities of weapons, ammo and other equipment have been captured and destroyed but there are still several hundred Islamic terrorists up there. The shortage of weapons, equipment and manpower has prevented the Islamic terrorists in the region (the Sahel) from launching any major attacks in over a year or to do much beyond a few terror attacks a month in Mali.

In order to maintain the pressure France plan to establish a special force of 3,000 troops to fight Islamic terrorists throughout the Sahel (actually just Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso). This would include a thousand just in Mali and the rest ready to quickly move from bases elsewhere in the region to wherever the most Islamic terrorist activity had been detected. The Americans are a junior partners in this, providing satellite and UAV surveillance and other intel services (especially analysis and access to nearly all American data on Islamic terrorist activities in the region). All this is meant to keep the Islamic terrorists in the Sahel weak and disorganized. So far that has worked, but AQIM is still getting support from Islamic terrorists in Europe and the Persian Gulf, where wealthy Islamic conservatives are still willing to finance Islamic terrorism in Africa.

Algeria has been helpful, especially with securing its long, largely unguarded borders. These are 6,343 kilometers long and include frontiers with seven countries. Moreover most of these borderlands are in the thinly occupied desert. Before aircraft were invented it was impossible to secure these borders. But even with aircraft a tightly sealed border remains impossible. About half that area is dangerous because of the Islamic terrorist threat in those countries. Libya, Mali and Tunisia comprise 52 percent of Algeria’s borders and the 1,376 kilometer long Mali border is particularly troublesome since it is all desert and very popular with smugglers and other outlaws from the regions to the south. Thus the Algerian effort to more effectively patrol those borders. Most of those caught sneaking in are smugglers, mainly because Algeria is now considered a hostile refuge for Islamic terrorists fleeing increasingly successful counter-terrorism efforts in the Sahel.

While the May violence in the northern town of Kidal has subsided, there are still about 18,000 additional refugees created by that fighting, at least a quarter of them from Kidal itself. The problem is always getting refugees to return home. Some do but many fear that the warring groups are still around and ready to start shooting again. That is often the case. So there are still more than 130,000 Mali refugees in foreign countries and more than 150,000 refugees inside Mali. The total number of refugees is down from 2013 but at the current rate of return refugees will be a problem for several more years.  

June 25, 2014:  The UN extended the peacekeeping operation in Mali until June 30, 2015.

June 24, 2014:  Police captured Mahamed Aly Ag Wadoussene, the criminal who led a June 16 jailbreak. Wadoussene is infamous for leading the gang that kidnapped two French citizens in 2011 and sold them to al Qaeda. Wadoussene was still in the capital when caught. Wadoussene is a Taureg, an army deserter and led a criminal gang in 2011 that saw kidnapping Westerners as a way to get rich. Selling the captives to Islamic terrorists was profitable but it did not make Wadoussene and his gang rich. Meanwhile the police found out about Wadoussene and his kidnapping activity and eventually caught up with the gang. Wadoussene is not believed to be an Islamic terrorist but rather an immoral opportunist.

June 16, 2014: Convicted kidnapper Mahamed Aly Ag Wadoussene and 21 other prisoners broke out of a prison in the capital, killing two people in the process. Wadoussene got hold of a gun and police are now investigating if bribery was involved in the incident.

June 15, 2014: In Algeria several Mali Tuareg separatist groups signed an agreement to hold peace talks with each other and the Mali government to create a permanent settlement to the many disputes between the Tuareg and the Mali government.  The Tuareg includes MNLA (the main Tuareg rebel group) and several smaller and less well-armed groups.

June 11, 2014: In the north (north of Kidal on the road to Algeria) a car bomb exploded outside a peacekeeper base. This killed four Chadian peacekeepers and wounded six others. Four Malian soldiers were also wounded. AQIM was suspected of being responsible.

June 5, 2014: In the capital an army lieutenant was arrested and charged with being part of another plot to stage a coup and overthrow the government. Other officers are being sought as well. All these men belong to the Red Berets, who are paratroopers who were rivals of the officers who led the last coup.

June 4, 2014: The government announced the reintroduction of conscription. It will be for all physically and mentally capable men aged 18 to 35. This is to begin in 2015 and will mainly be to train as many men as possible during six months of active service. After that the armed men will provide a large trained “reserve” force. This is unlikely to work. That’s because 250,000 Mali males turn 18 each year. Applying high standards would eliminate about half of those from eligibility for military training, leaving 125,000 recruits to be trained each year. Currently the military only has about 7,000 active duty personnel and peak size recently was 9,000. Assuming three months of training for recruits, most active duty military personnel would be devoted to training in order to put 125,000 men a year through the program. After that some of the more capable newly trained men could be brought back to active service just to help with the training and after a few years all eligible 18 year olds would be getting their training and know how to use weapons and fight in an organized and disciplined manner. Another big problem is financial. Where would the money for this come from? Even if you pay the recruits very little you have to feed and house them during the training and there are other training expenses as well (fuel, ammo and some medical care). The government plans to begin this program in 2015 but odds are financial and organizational problems will derail it. Mali last had conscription from 1983 to 1991 and it was not popular or very effective. 

May 30, 2014: Spain announced they had arrested six men and accused them of recruiting young Moslem men to go fight for Islamic terrorist groups in Mali and Libya. One of those arrested was a member of the Mauritanian Islamic terrorist group MUJAO (Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa) and had recently returned from Mali where he had received terrorist training.

May 29, 2014: In the north (west of Timbuktu) two aid workers (Malians employed by a foreign group) died when their vehicle hit a mine.

In neighboring Burkina Faso Mali officials called for a meeting with Tuareg representatives and proposed resuming peace talks.

 

 

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