The next three months of “working out the details” negotiations with the Tuaregs will determine whether there will be peace or continued war in the north. This could all fall apart if there is no agreement on how much and what kind of autonomy will be allowed up north. There is already agreement on some other important points. Both sides agree that Islamic terrorists have to be kept out of the north and that the new government in the north will be secular and respect the different ethnic groups up there. All this will be done with some help from Algeria. For decades the main source of Islamic terrorists in North Africa has been Algeria. Both countries have agreed to work towards making their mutual border an effective barrier to Islamic terrorists and smugglers. Algeria closed the official border crossings in January 2013 to make it more difficult for Islamic terrorists to move between Algeria and Mali. This shut down trade and that hurt Mali more than Algeria. Meanwhile Algeria sent more troops to the border area this year and went after the smugglers and others trying to cross illegally. Mali is coordinating efforts to secure the border in order to get the border crossings reopened. 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.
The Tuaregs are eager to get a peace deal because the threat of renewed fighting makes it difficult to completely pacify the area. Without a peace deal bandits, rebels and sometimes Malian soldiers will commit crimes (theft, extortion, kidnapping) and disrupt foreign aid operations. Many people in the north are going hungry because the continued unrest has delayed aid shipments. Those who attack the aid operations don’t care who it hurts, but the rebel leaders do and they want a peace deal so they can concentrate on making the region safe enough for the economy to recover and foreign aid operations to function without interference.
Meanwhile there are other serious problems to attend to. The government leaders are as corrupt as ever, despite growing pressure from France and other nations that supply a lot of aid. If peace is achieved in the north it will be in spite of the corruption in the capital. The north has long complained about the corruption, which saw much aid meant for the north stolen by politicians from the south (where the black majority elects black politicians). One of the potential stumbling blocks in achieving peace in the north is the southern politicians allowing foreign aid to go directly to the north, and not pass through the central government down south where it can be plundered a bit first.
France believes the Sahel (the semi-desert area south of the desert that stretches across northern Africa) is still troubled by thousands of Islamic terrorists.
In order to maintain pressure on the Islamic terrorists
France is establishing a special force of 3,000 troops to fight Islamic terrorists throughout the Sahel (actually just Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso). This redeployment officially began this month and will include a thousand French troops 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. Islamic terrorists are currently launching a few attacks in northern Mali mainly to let the world know that Islamic terrorist groups are still present, barely, in the area.
July 25, 2014: French troops, with the help of local residents, have reached the wreckage of a Spanish airliner that disappeared from radar over northern Mali on the 24th. French aircraft were sent to the area to search for the airliner and soon found it. Mali asked France to send troops to help with the investigation and secure the crash site. So far all that is known is that all 116 people aboard were killed. The investigation of the wreckage will determine the cause. The aircraft was flying too high for a shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles local Islamic terrorists might have had and there is no evidence that the Islamic terrorists in Mali ever had larger anti-aircraft missiles. Missiles leave distinctive damage. French troops quickly found and removed the flight recorders, which appeared to be intact. The current hypothesis is that the airliner was brought down by bad weather and/or mechanical problems. Again, the investigation can sort all this out. The downed airliner was flying from Burkina Faso to Algeria.
July 24, 2014: The government and the Tuareg rebels in north signed an agreement to work out details for a peace deal that includes limited autonomy for the north. Senior officials also agreed to meet again in October, hopefully with an agreement both sides could sign.
July 23, 2014: Islamic terrorist leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar (the planner of the January 2013 natural gas facility attack in southern Algeria that got 37 workers killed) of Islamic terror group
Al Mourabitoun claimed responsibility for the recent suicide bombing that killed a French soldier. This attack, he said, was made to refute French claims that Islamic terrorists had been largely eliminated in the north. The French claim was accurate and Al Mourabitoun has not been very active at all, anywhere in North Africa. In April
released a statement on the Internet announcing his return to al Qaeda. He had split from that organization in late 2012.
Belmokhtar is believed to be
operating from a base in southern Libya. Al Mourabitoun was formed in August 2013 when two Islamic terrorist factions merged. The new group has been detected operating in northern Mali and Niger (where it had carried out several daring attacks, including a prison break in June and twin bombings in May 2013). One faction was an al Qaeda splinter group led by
Belmokhtar who had a reputation for always escaping the many efforts to kill or capture him. Belmokhtar was number two or three in the North African al Qaeda organization (
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or AQIM) but formed his own splinter group in late 2012. In November 2013
France announced that it had killed the second-in-command of
Al Mourabitoun near the northern town of Tessalit and was still searching for
Belmokhtar, despite reports that he might have died during an air attack in 2013. The French and American pressure in the Sahel has left Belmokhtar short of cash and prospects, so returning to al Qaeda is a way to remedy those problems. Al Qaeda has always had access to more cash and other resources than most other terrorist organizations and that’s why it remains such a visible player among Islamic terrorists.
July 21, 2014: In the north (outside Gao) a suicide car bomber attacked a group of French soldiers, killing one of them and wounding six others. This is the ninth French soldier to die in Mali since the French moved in during January 2013. That’s a low casualty rate, lower (at 150 per 100,000 troops per year) than it ever got (200) in Afghanistan for the Americans. In Afghanistan the rate got as high as 587 per 100,000 in 2010. The peak rate in Iraq was a bit higher. Rates during earlier wars for France (Vietnam, World War II) were more than ten times what they have been in Mali so far.
July 16, 2014: Algeria is hosting peace talks between Mali and the Tuareg rebels in northern Mali that begin today.
July 15, 2014: The government and Tuareg rebels in the north exchanged prisoners. Mali held 41 Tuaregs and the rebels held 45 soldiers. This was a good-will gesture to get the peace talks in Algeria off to a good start. The exchange had been agreed upon earlier.
July 13, 2014: France announced that their campaign to drive Islamic terrorists out of northern Mali was officially over and, while some French troops would stay, most would be moved to other countries in the region facing problems with Islamic terrorists.
July 11, 2014: In the north (between Kidal and Gao) fighting broke out between Tuareg and Arab rebels. The Tuareg and Arabs in the north often had disagreements, but have tried to unite to obtain more autonomy from the majority black government in the south. The fighting went on for several days, causing over a hundred casualties and nearly 40 dead. Many of the dead were Mali soldiers who caused the incident or were trying to stop the fighting (depending on whose version you believe).