Getting all the Islamic terrorists out of northern Mali, and the Sahara Desert in general is proving very difficult because the remaining terrorists have morphed back into gangsters. Their primary source of income is smuggling drugs and people from sub-Saharan Africa to the Mediterranean coast and thence to Europe. The drugs largely consist of cocaine from South America while the people are economic migrants from all over Africa. There is also a steady traffic in weapons from Libya (where vast Kaddafi era stockpiles were looted during the 2011 revolution) to sub-Saharan Africa via Mali and other states on the southern edge of the Sahara. This drug and people smuggling has actually been going on for years and was briefly interrupted in 2013 when the French invaded northern Mali. But now the smuggling operations have adapted to the presence of peacekeepers and French counter-terrorism forces in northern Mali and business continues.
This smuggling business came about because of the refusal of Western nations to pursue Islamic terrorists defeated in the 1990s in places like Algeria, Morocco and Libya. Many of the survivors went south into the desert and established lucrative smuggling (of drugs and people) and kidnapping (of Westerners) operations that brought in as much as $10 million a year. This enabled hundreds of hardcore and experienced Islamic terrorists to continue recruiting and planning new terror attacks against Moslem and Western nations. While a lot of that money was diverted to operating expenses (including bribing, or hiring, locals) and corruption (al Qaeda documents captured over the years indicates this is still a problem) there was enough left to buy more weapons than they needed and spread the word that Islamic terrorism was the way to go and it paid well (currently about $600 a month). This appealed to a lot of young men who had bleak economic prospects and were always up for some adventure, especially if it involved getting a gun, a license to kill or loot and regular pay. Another thing that kept the Islamic radical pot boiling was the existing ethnic and racial tensions in the region. There was a lot of this animosity in the southern Sahara, especially in northern Mali. It was most intense in the major cities. Black Africans living in the north, usually in the cities, have long been seen as unwelcome representatives of the black majority government in the south. The majority in the north were 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). After the Islamic terrorists took control of northern Mali in 2012 the locals found that doing business with Islamic terrorists was one thing but being ruled by them was no fun at all. Now the Tuareg and Arab leaders in the north want to make peace, although some will maintain good relations (at least as long as it pays well) with the Islamic terrorist groups and leave the terrorists alone as long as the terrorists just stick to business. Some 90 percent of Malians are black Africans living in the non-desert (south of the Niger River) south. They too are tired of the constant battles with the Arabs and Tuaregs of the north and, at the moment, seem willing to make peace.
The French are willing to live with some of this smuggling up north as long as the locals give up the active Islamic terrorists that are being sought. Aware that this would happen, most of those guys have fled the area, leaving less notorious, but still competent, subordinates to run the business. The French come across signs of the smuggling operation all the time and seize the more blatant evidence like trucks where the drugs are not well hidden or groups of people who don’t belong in the area and are obviously being smuggled. When caught like this the smugglers can always catch a break if they give up some useful information on Islamic terrorists, but that is done at the risk of landing on some Islamic terrorist “shoot on sight” list. The Mali security forces and some of the African peacekeepers can simply be bought off with a bribe. This is one reason the French insist on maintaining a military presence in northern Mali.
The various rebel groups in the north have now formed a coalition to aid in negotiating a peace agreement with the Mali government. This coalition is willing to keep the peace and help control Islamic terrorists up there in return for less interference and more cash from the government. While this is generally agreeable to everyone, working out the details may take some time. What the northerners urgently need is food and medical aid to keep over a million people alive. These are the victims of the damage done to the economy by a year of Islamic terrorist rule. The north also needs effective economic aid to rebuild its economy.
September 16, 2014: A group of
AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) members declared that they had formed a new faction and pledged allegiance to
ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). This sort of thing is happening all over the Islamic world as the more fanatic Islamic terrorists seek to identify with what appears to be the most successful Islamic terrorist group at the moment. ISIL recently declared the establishment of a caliphate in eastern Syria and western Iraq. This triggered a massive counterattack by Moslem and Western nations. That will make ISIL a rather less attractive role model eventually and the hard core Islamic terrorists worldwide will find another way to brand themselves as the worst of the worst in their neighborhood.
September 15, 2014: The government signed a number of economic aid and trade deals with China totaling $11 billion. Most of this is for building or upgrading two rail lines from landlocked Mali to the coasts of neighboring Guinea and Senegal. The details of these deals have been kept secret, no doubt to conceal large bribes and other questionable aspects of these contracts. China likes to play by local rules while many Western nations and financial institutions do not. For example, it was revealed that this deal included $41 million for gifts and interest free loans. All this will bring some economic benefit to southern Mali, even though the Chinese bring in their own people (from China) to handle a lot of the work. This usually includes thousands of lower level workers who could have been hired locally. These practices are a growing cause of friction in Africa, especially since some of these workers remain in the African countries were they worked on some Chinese funded project. These Chinese settlers generate more economic activity, but often generate friction with the less economically successful locals. It’s an old problem in Africa.
September 14, 2014: In the north (near Kidal) a peacekeeper was killed and four others wounded when their vehicle hit a landmine.
September 13, 2014: In the north (near Kidal) local rebels handed over to the French a senior lieutenant for Islamic terrorist leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar (the planner of the January 2013 natural gas facility attack in southern Algeria that got 37 workers killed). Belmokhtar heads Islamic terrorist group
Al Mourabitoun and claimed responsibility for the July suicide bombing that killed a French soldier. Thus the French were quite eager to get their hands on this guy.
Belmokhtar had earlier declared that t
he July attack 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. But in the last month there have been more attacks in the north, usually around Kidal and Al Mourabitoun, not local groups, was suspected.
released a statement on the Internet announcing his return to al AQIM.
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).
Belmokhtar had a reputation for always escaping the many efforts to kill or capture him. Belmokhtar had been number two or three in
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 AQIM was a way to remedy those problems. AQIM 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.
September 9, 2014: France called on European nations to join with theme to do something about the chaos in Libya, which has now become a sanctuary for all manner of Islamic terrorist groups. Most European nations are not eager to return to Libya, after assisting the rebels there with air attacks in 2011.
September 2, 2014: In the north (near Kidal) a four peacekeepers were killed and 15 others wounded when their vehicle encountered a roadside bomb.
September 1, 2014: In Algiers a coalition of northern rebel groups resumed peace negotiations with the Mali government. This is the continuation of a process that began in May when all the rebel groups signed a ceasefire. This came after some rebels got violent and it became obvious that they could not win anything this way because of the French troops and African peacekeepers. So everyone decided to negotiate.
August 30, 2014:
In Mali two of the three Algerian diplomats taken captive there in April 2012 were released. It is unclear who was holding the two when they were let go. It was also learned that the third captive had died of an illness. In April 2014 a video of one of the captives was released, and that was the first message from the kidnappers since January 2013. Originally seven Algerians were taken but since then three have been released and one killed. There has been no direct contact with the kidnappers since a French led invasion of northern Mali in January 2013. It was believed the Islamic terrorists holding the Algerians were on the run and it was hoped that the French would find and free them. That did not happen and in April those holding one of the Algerians felt secure enough to resume demanding ransom. The government said it did not want to pay ransom, so as not to encourage more such kidnappings. It is unclear exactly how the two were freed and all Mali will say was that it was after extensive negotiations. This seems to indicate that one of the northern Tuareg tribes came to be holding the captives and arranged their release for some favors, or to avoid a raid by French commandos.
August 29, 2014: In the north (near Kidal) nine peacekeepers were wounded when their vehicle encountered a roadside bomb.