Since 2013 64 peacekeepers have died in Mali. Fifteen of those deaths occurred in the last year. Most of these deaths occurred in the north, where most of the violence has occurred since (and before) the peacekeepers arrived in 2013. Currently there are 11,500 peacekeepers in Mali. This force is composed of about a thousand French and (mainly) African troops and in the last year suffered a death rate of 130 per 100,000 per year (a standard measure of such things.) That’s higher than the 2013 rate (200) for foreign troops in Afghanistan, which was down from 587 in 2010, which was about what it was during the peak years in Iraq (2004-7). The action in Mali is less intense than in Afghanistan or pre-2011 Iraq but is more than double the rate for peacekeepers worldwide. Total peacekeeper casualties since mid-2013 are only about 240 dead and wounded and losses have been much heavier among the Islamic terrorists. After 2013 most of the surviving Islamic terrorists in Mali moved to bases in southern Libya but since then a growing number have been south to reestablish themselves 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. In addition to Islamic terrorists the north is still beset by violent tribal disputes and banditry. These last two problems are seen as a sign that life is returning to normal in the north. For the peacekeepers, it’s often hard to tell if they are being attacked by Islamic terrorists, hostile tribal militia or bandits seeking to loot an aid convoy. Meanwhile, life is actually returning to normal up north. Since 2013, when things settled down in the north, over 90 percent of the half million people displaced by the year of Islamic terrorist rule in 2012 have returned home. About a quarter of the Mali refugees fled to neighboring countries and nearly all have come home. The wrecked economy in the north and continued violence (from tribal feuds, increased bandit activity and some lingering Islamic terrorist activity) made it clear in 2013 that the rate of return for refugees would be low and getting everyone back would take several more years. About 40,000 refugees still have to be returned.
Dealing With The Saudi Problem
A growing number of Islamic clergy (especially the Sufi) in Mali are organizing and actively resisting the spread of radical Islamic beliefs. In the north, Islamic terrorists destroyed numerous Sufi shrines during 2012. The Sufis (and Shia and other Islamic sects) are considered heretics and often persecuted by Sunni conservatives. While most (90 percent) of Malians are Moslem and most of those are Sunni, it is a version of Sunni Islam heavily influenced by Sufiism, the least militant form of Islam. Sufi missionaries were among the first to reach Mali and those Sufi shrines in the north are among the oldest Islamic artifacts anywhere.
Specifically the Mali clerics are resisting continuing efforts by Saudi Arabia to spread a conservative form of Islam that justifies Islamic terrorism. While the Saudis never officially supported Islamic terrorism they were, at the same time, very much responsible for the increase in Islamic terrorist activity since the 1970s. That’s because in Arabia (where Islam first appeared in the 7th century) the locals believe they are more Islamic than other Moslems. After all, the Koran was written in Arabic and all the founders of Islam were Arabs. Yet for over a thousand years there has been a tradition of different factions in Arabia trying outdo each other to prove who is “more Islamic” than the other. This led to constant fighting and suppression of new ideas. One of those fanatic factions is the Wahhabi form of Sunni Islam in what is now Saudi Arabia. Wahhabis, who first appeared in the 18th century, are very conservative and very hostile to non-Moslems and Moslems who are not Sunni. This meant little to the non-Moslem world until lots of oil wealth appeared in Arabia after World War II. Suddenly it became possible for Saudis to show how pious they were by funding Wahhabi missionaries who went to other Moslem (and many non-Moslem) nations to preach, establish Wahhabi religious schools and mosques (all paid for and sustained by Saudi Arabia) and create the current Islamic terrorism problem. Billions were (and still are) spent on this and the policy of getting the young boys into these free religious schools and turning many of them into hateful (towards anyone not like them) Islamic religious fanatics. This led to a major outbreak of Islamic terrorism in the late 20th century. At first this was not seen as a problem in Moslem countries. It was seen as a lot of pious and generous Saudis sharing the wealth. Soon (by the 1980s) a growing number of Moslem nations noted what was actually going on and resisted this destructive Saudi charity. Initially Moslem nations like Turkey, Iraq, Libya and Syria resisted the Wahhabi missionaries and money for political reasons as these nations did not accept the Wahhabi concept Islam dominating politics.
The Wahhabi problem is most obvious in Saudi Arabia, which practiced what it preached. Thus no other religions can be openly practiced and other forms of Islam are barely tolerated, sort of, and often persecuted. All Saudis are educated in schools that insist the Wahhabi way is the only way. As a result Saudis have always provided the largest number of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and al Qaeda recruits. The Saudi rulers control the clergy, to a point, and do not allow public expressions of Islamic radical ideas hostile to the Saudi government. But many Saudis back radical ideas that al Qaeda and ISIL get behind, like replacing the Saudi monarchy with a religious dictatorship. They must be quiet about this or leave the country. This ideological mess is something Arab rulers, particularly in Saudi Arabia, have been dealing with since Saudi Arabia was formed in the 1920s. Change comes slowly in religious matters but meanwhile religious zealots that Arab oil wealth paid to create threaten everyone, including rulers of Moslem majority nations. After September 11, 2001 the Saudis reluctantly began cracking down on the Islamic terrorist monster they had created. This was difficult to do but the Saudis were largely persuaded by the growing number of Islamic terrorist groups that wanted to kill the Saudi royals and run all of Arabia as a religious dictatorship. Messing with religion is one thing but if you really want to get someone’s attention threaten to take away their wealth and power. But while the Saudis eventually went along with American demands that wealthy Saudi supporters of Islamic terrorist groups be curbed, the Saudis refused to stop exporting their Wahhabi form of Islam. Many of the Saudi preachers and teachers are quite comfortable with Islamic terrorism, something they could not openly back inside Saudi Arabia. But outside Arabia these men could pretty much do as they wished, except for actively supporting the overthrow of the Saudi monarchy. Poor countries like Mali cannot afford to simply ban Saudi aid, which builds mosques, schools and many non-religious activities. But that does not prevent the local clergy and many of their political allies from making life difficult for the Saudi missionaries who try to turn Mali Moslems into Islamic terrorists or Moslems who will support or at least tolerate Islamic terrorism.
May 29, 2016: In central Mali (outside Sevare) five peacekeepers were killed (and one wounded) when the convoy they were escorting was attacked by an unidentified group.
May 27, 2016: In the north five soldiers were killed and four wounded when their vehicles hit a mine.
May 18, 2016: In the northeast (outside Kidal) Islamic terrorists attacked a convoy using a mine and gunfire. Five peacekeepers (from Chad) were killed and three wounded. The attackers fled but later three suspects were arrested.
May 17, 2016: One of the new Islamic terrorist groups (FLM) released its first video, which featured material from an attack it participated in during June 2015 plus comments from members and a short speech by one of its leader. FLM is one of the several smaller outfits belonging to AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb). FLM is a year old and quite small. It operates in central and southern Mali. The group identifies itself as Fulani, a dominant tribe in central Mali (and 14 percent of the national population.) FLM means Macina Liberation Front and Macina are the local branch of the Fulani. FLM considers itself a partner with Ansar Dine, who helped get FLM started. The main concentration of AQIM personnel are in the north, in the rural areas between the northern city of Timbuktu and the borders with Mauritania and Algeria. Ansar Dine is still a presence north of Timbuktu because many of its leaders and members came from the area. Ansar Dine was unique in that it was the only Islamic terrorist group from Mali and was led by Tuareg Islamic radicals who were formerly secular rebels. Ansar Dine always saw itself as the only Malian group in AQIM, which many Malians consider a bunch of gangsters, dependent on its relationship with drug gangs (al Qaeda moves the drugs north to the Mediterranean coast) and kidnappers (who hold Europeans for multi-million dollar ransoms). All this cash gave AQIM a lot of power, both to buy weapons and hire locals. AQIM is still present up north but they have to play nice with Ansar Dine, which is helping to organize new Islamic terror groups in Mali. Since 2012 the only visible success has been FLM.
May 11, 2016: In the north (outside Gao) two soldiers were killed when their vehicle encountered a mine.
May 10, 2016: In the north (outside Gao) Islamic terrorists attacked an army camp but were repulsed. One soldier and one attacker were killed.
Further north, just across the border in Algeria soldiers found a smuggler hideout where weapons were stored. Troops seized one 107mm rocket, two machine-guns, two AK-47s, nine 120mm mortar shells, six 76mm shells, 50 kg (110 pounds) of explosives and about three thousand rounds of ammunition. It’s unclear if these items were headed for Algeria or Mali.
May 9, 2016: Down south in the capital police revealed that they had arrested a senior Islamic terrorist leaders on the 5th and kept it quiet while they sought to take advantage of any new leads this led to. The arrested man was in charge of obtaining supplies, especially weapons and ammo, for Ansar Dine.