Mali: Peace At Last, Sort Of

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June 26, 2015: While all the major groups have agreed to a peace deal there is still violence in the north because of the continued presence of Islamic terrorists, renegade Tuareg separatists and bandits. Currently there are 11,500 peacekeepers in Mali, most of them in the north. The Mali peacekeeping force, is composed of about a thousand French and (mainly) African troops and is suffering a death rate of 240 per 100,000 per year (a standard measure of such things.) That’s higher than the 2013 rate (200) in Afghanistan (that peaked at 587 in 2010). The peak years in Iraq (2004-7) also saw rates of 500-600.

The action in Mali is less intense than in Afghanistan or pre-2011 Iraq. Total casualties since mid-2013 are only about 200 dead and wounded. Most of the Islamic terrorists from Mali moved to bases in southern Libya and are now regularly moving south to carry out operations in northern Mali. All this is possible because Libya is undergoing a civil war, mainly up north along the coast and no one bothers with Islamic terrorists who only kill across the border in Mali. There is a similar problem in Afghanistan with Islamic terrorists operations from several sanctuary areas in neighboring Pakistan and Iran.

The north has always been a violent place, with bandits, tribal feuds and wealthy merchants who maintained their own private armies to keep order or impose their will. Currently the major combatants are tribal militias which have either sided with the government or the militias of the Tuareg separatists. These two antagonists account for most of the killings and injuries. Less common are Islamic terror attacks as these groups spend most of their time trying to avoid detection and attack by the Western (mainly French in Mali) forces looking for them. The various militias stay out of this by reporting most sightings of Islamic terrorists, which makes it even more difficult for these religious fanatics to maintain bases in the north or even move around freely.  Right now AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) is the most active terror group in the north but carries out attacks more for their newsworthiness than for their impact on government control up there.

June 23, 2015: AQIM released another video of two tourists (a Swede and a South African) they had kidnapped in northern Mali in 2011. A third man (from Netherlands) was also taken then but be was recently rescued by French troops. It was unclear when the video was made and the two hostages pleaded for their governments to pay the multimillion dollar ransom demanded. Nothing had been heard about these hostages since 2013. Most governments no longer pay these ransoms because they have come to understand that this only makes their citizens, especially when overseas, more likely to be kidnapped. Peacekeepers have been scouring northern Mali for Islamic terrorist hideouts where foreign hostages are believed to have been kept. French troops rescued the Dutch hostage in northern Mali in April and that apparently led to the belief that the other two men were still alive and possibly in the area.

June 20, 2015: The peace deal for the north was finally signed by all parties when the last group of Tuareg rebels (CMA or Coordination des Mouvements de l'Azawad) signed. Tuareg rebels and Islamic terrorists (from Mali and neighboring countries) took over most of northern Mali in 2012 and remained in control until a 2013 French-led invasion restored government control. Most of the Islamic terrorists were killed or fled to Libya and Niger. Algeria hosted several rounds of peace negotiations between the Mali government and the rebels.

June 19, 2015: In the north pro-government militias withdrew from the town of Menaka. This was in compliance with the new peace deal. Peacekeepers then moved in. This town is about a hundred kilometers from the Niger border and had been fought over by local militias and Mali tribal (MNLA) Islamic radicals. All this was one of the conditions to be met so that Tuareg rebel group CMA would sign the peace treaty.

June 17, 2015: Al Qaeda announced that their second-in-command in Libya, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, was not killed by a recent American air strike. Mokhtar Belmokhtar (the planner of the January 2013 natural gas facility attack in southern Algeria that got 37 workers killed) has survived several attempts to kill him and has a reputation for being elusive. He survived such attacks in 2013 and 2014. Belmokhtar is elusive within AQIM as well. He split from the organization in 2012 and founded another Islamic terrorist group (Al Mourabitoun). After about two years of this he rejoined AQIM but did not disband Al Mourabitoun. For over two years Al Mourabitoun has been operating from a base in southern Libya and found operating in northern Mali and Niger. The U.S. is offering a $5 million reward for information that would lead to the death or capture of Belmokhtar. AQIM admits the death of seven Islamic terrorists during the American attack and named them. In Libya the Tobruk government forces are cooperating with Americans to confirm if Belmokhtar is alive or dead and that may take weeks.

June 16, 2015: Most of the concerned parties signed the peace treaty.

June 15, 2015: The air force is buying six Brazilian A-29 Super Tucano aircraft for their air force. The Super Tucano is a single engine turbo-prop trainer/attack aircraft that is used by over a dozen nations. This aircraft carries two internal 12.7mm (.50 caliber) machine-guns and can carry up to 1.5 tons of bombs and rockets. It can stay in the air for 6.5 hours at a time. It is rugged, easy to maintain, and cheap. You pay $15-20 million for each Super Tucano, depending on how much training, spare parts, and support equipment you get with them. Currently Mali has no flyable combat aircraft.

June 11, 2015: French troops in the north conducted a joint training exercise with newly arrived Malian troops to familiarize the soldiers, who are largely from the more moist (with lots of forests) south, with the desert terrain and desert peoples of the north. The five day operation will introduce the southerners to techniques that work in the north. This will include introducing the newly arrived army commanders to village and nomad leaders and explain how these locals are an invaluable source of information about Islamic terrorists and bandits. In the past soldiers from the south were hostile to the northerners and the French are hoping to change that attitude. This will be difficult because in the north there is a long history of bad behavior by southern soldiers.

June 10, 2015: In the far south (near the Ivory Coast border) about 30 Islamic terrorists attacked a police base in Misseni. One policeman was killed. Several vehicles and buildings were destroyed by fire before the attackers departed on their motorbikes. It was later discovered that the attackers were local (southerners) members of Islamic terror group Ansar Dine.

June 5, 2015: Most of the northern groups involved in the peace talks agreed to details of a peace deal. There are still some holdouts, mainly Tuareg separatist group CMA.

June 1, 2015: AQIM claimed responsibility for two attacks (a mine in a road and rockets fired at a base) against peacekeepers in the last week. The mine wounded three peacekeepers while the rockets caused no injuries.

 

 

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