Local officials and the UN are calling for some action on the drug smuggling problem in Mali. Getting absolutely all the Islamic terrorists out of northern Mali has proved difficult mainly because the remaining terrorists have a lucrative source of income. This is their control of part of a smuggling network that moves drugs and people from sub-Saharan Africa to the Mediterranean coast and thence to Europe. 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. All this 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 past 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 over $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 of locals) and corruption (Islamic terrorist documents captured over the years indicates this is still a problem) there was enough left to buy what was needed to help 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 regular pay, getting a gun, a license to kill and loot.
Another thing that keeps the Islamic radical pot boiling is 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 and Arabs). 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 peace, have signed peace deals and are officially done with Islamic terrorism. But many Arabs and Tuaregs still maintain good relations (at least as long as it pays well) with the few remaining Islamic terrorist groups and leave the terrorists alone as long as the terrorists just stick to business. Note that 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 are now angry at the northerners because the Islamic terrorism has spread to the south.
Since 2012 Islamic radicalism from the north has been showing up in central Mali where several pro-Islamic terrorism Islamic clerics have been preaching support for Islamic terrorism. The government is under pressure to shut down this and any other pro-Islamic terror activity. That includes the drug smuggling and other criminal activity the Islamic terror groups use to sustain themselves. These problems are particularly acute among the Fulani people in central Mali. There are some twenty million Fulani living in the Sahel (the semi-desert area between the Sahara and the jungle) and some of those in northern Nigeria have become involved in Islamic terrorism via the local Islamic terror group Boko Haram. There are over two million Fulani in Mali and the name of a new Islamic terror group in the south (FLM for Macina Liberation Front) openly identifies with the Fulani (Macina are the local Fulanis). This group became active in early 2015 and has claimed responsibility for several attacks since. It started out with calls for Fulani people to live according to strict Islamic rules. That in turn led to violence against tribal and village leaders who opposed this. That escalated to attacks on businesses and government facilities. FLM is composed mostly of young Fulani men and is associated with Ansar Dine (which is largely Tuareg and funded by smuggling profits). Although most Malians are Moslem, few want anything to do with Islamic terrorism and Boko Haram is seen as a major mistake and not welcome at all in Mali. But the Fulani have always seen themselves as a people apart, an attitude common with the nomadic peoples of the Sahel. Fulani have also been involved with smuggling for a long time, in large part because many are still nomadic and the Fulani don’t really believe in borders.
In the north the unrest is not just about the few remaining Islamic terrorists but about the changes caused by the 2012 rebellion. That 2012 uprising was the fourth Tuareg uprising since 1962 and the most disruptive. Many of the Tuareg and Arab tribes up there gained or lost power because of what happened in 2012. The pro-government tribes feel entitled to more power. Many tribes found themselves facing economic problems because of the disruption to traditional smuggling activities. It is now much harder to sneak stuff into Algeria and the peacekeepers disrupted the lucrative drug smuggling operations. Most of the unrest in the north is about money and access to the means to obtain it. The government and the peacekeepers really can’t help much in disputes involving illegal activities. Not openly at least, but peacekeeper commanders and local officials do know what is really going on and have to work around it to reduce the violence and uncertainty. That is essential so that aid deliveries, rebuilding and economic growth can move forward.
Transportation has become a problem in the north. The few hundred remaining Islamic terrorists are planting mines in roads and remotely control bombs on the roadside. These are often part of an ambush that is meant to provide loot for the terrorists as well as opportunities to extort money from locals who want these attacks to happen somewhere else. It was thought that more peacekeepers would make it possible to put regular checkpoints on the few roads and limit the mobility of terrorists (or the growing number of bandits). That has worked, but the terrorists tend to stay outside the cities anyway and find shelter in Tuareg villages willing to be paid well for providing shelter. The Islamic terrorists can travel cross country and attack the roads used to move cargo and passengers. This has become a problem for the refugees, who depend on foreign aid for food and other necessities. The need to pay bribes to get commercial traffic through has raised prices to the extent that food is too expensive for many.
October 15, 2015: In the north the CMA (a former Tuareg rebel group) and pro-government Tuareg militias signed a peace treaty. This was necessary because otherwise the battles between the rival Tuareg groups would leave blood feuds in their wake and that would lead to years, if not generations, of killings to avenge past murders.
October 13, 2015: In the north (outside Gao) Islamic terrorists apparently attacked a supply convoy escorted by soldiers. The attack began when one truck (carrying gasoline) was destroyed by a roadside bomb. This was followed by gunfire and before troops could chase away the attackers two more trucks were destroyed and six civilians killed. Two people were wounded, one of them a soldier.
In the far north three French soldiers were wounded when their vehicle hit a mine.
October 9, 2015: In central Mali (Mopti province) three civilians were killed near the Burkina Faso border by gunmen on motorcycles which were flying black flags. The attackers fled when police quickly showed up and the gunmen were believed to be Islamic terrorists. The town of Mopti is 450 kilometers northeast of the capital and has been the scene of continuing Islamic terrorist violence. This began back in January 2013 when several hundred al Qaeda gunmen from the north showed up in the area but halted when troops opened fire. At that point the Islamic terrorists began making preparations to attack while within sight of the soldiers. By the end of the month the French has led an attack to retake the north and that drove the Islamic terrorists away from Mopti for over a year. But now they are back. Mopti is a market town at the junction of the Niger and Bani rivers. Over 90 percent of Malians live south of Mopti.
Across the border in Burkina Faso there are similar groups of Islamic terrorists operating, often in larger groups and today at least fifty of them attacked a Burkina Faso police station 30 kilometers from the Mali border. The attack was repulsed with three policemen and at least one attacker killed.
October 1, 2015: In the north the government and Tuareg CMA rebels exchanged 47 prisoners as part of peace deal the UN helped arrange.