Mali has become known as a rough neighborhood, especially for peacekeepers. For the fourth year in a row Mali has been the most dangerous peacekeeping mission in the world. During 2017 Mali saw 21 peacekeepers and seven civilian support staff killed. That was 39 percent of UN peacekeeper deaths in 2017 for a force that accounts for less than 12 percent of all UN peacekeepers. The Mali peacekeepers (currently 13,000 strong) have suffered over a hundred dead since 2013. Most of these deaths occurred in the north, where there was l0ts of violence since (and before) the peacekeepers arrived in early 2013. The peacekeepers are mainly African and in the last year the combined forces suffered a death rate of about 215 per 100,000 per year (a standard measure of such things.) Compare that to Afghanistan, where in 2013 the rate (200 per 100,000) was lower for all foreign troops there. That was down from the peak 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 pre-2014 Afghanistan or pre-2011 Iraq but is more than double the rate for peacekeepers worldwide. Total peacekeeper casualties since mid-2013 are about 300 dead and wounded and losses have been much heavier among the Islamic terrorists. But there are now a growing number of Islamic terrorists in part because some survivors of recent ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) defeats in Syria and Iraq have fled back their North African homelands and find the best place to find refuge is the Sahel (the semi-desert area south of the Sahara desert that stretches across northern Africa) and that includes northern Mali and neighboring Niger. Then there are the Fulani tribes of Mali, who are mainly in central Mali and have been largely responsible for the growing number of terrorist incidents outside the north. While the Islamic terror groups are taking heavy casualties they are also making more territory in the north and central Mali designated as “dangerous” for security forces and government officials. In the north the threat is still from lots of foreign Islamic terrorists but further south the violence is produced by local Fulani.
Fulani are, like the Tuareg just north of them, a minority (about 14 percent of the population) and seen as “outsiders” by many other Mali tribes. There are some twenty million Fulani living in the Sahel and some of those in northern Nigeria got involved in Islamic terrorism via the Nigerian Boko Haram. News of that spread to other Fulani in the region and created a response. There are over two million Fulani in Mali and Fulani Islamic terrorists became active in early 2015 and claimed responsibility for a growing number of 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.
In Mali and neighboring states the Islamic terrorists are largely united. Most of the Islamic terrorist activity is the work of JNIM (Jamâ’ah Nusrah al Islâm wal Muslimîn, or Group for the support of Islam and Moslems), which was formed in early 2017. In part this was a reaction to the growing threat from ISIL which is hostile to everyone who is not ISIL and will attack or recruit from the JNIM members AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), Ansar Dine, FLM and al Mourabitoun (an al Qaeda splinter group). Another reason for merger was to make it easier to pool resources (including information and advice) and coordinate with other Islamic terror groups in the area. This reduces friction and destructive feuding. Making a coalition like this work is always difficult, especially considering the importance of ethnic differences. The FLM is Fulani while the other groups are largely Tuareg, Arab and some are largely foreigners. Note that JNIM did not absorb all of AQIM or al Mourabitoun, just local groups that had long been identified with al Qaeda. Al Mourabitoun is believed to have largely rejoined al Qaeda. Internal politics for Islamic terror groups is a lot messier than these religious zealots like to admit. That’s mainly because each group believes they are uniquely qualified to be the supreme leader of all Islam. Coping with this aspect of Islamic radicalism has proved burdensome and ultimately becomes a major reason for Islamic terror movements to fail and fade away (via desertion and other forms of self-destruction). JNIM is more heavily influenced by its Fulani component and that is another reason for more attacks in central Mali, which has long been the scene of conflict with Fulanis. Largely because of the Fulani and JNIM there has been more Islamic terrorist activity in the last year and that has impeded reconstruction and foreign aid efforts. Add to that the existing culture of corruption, especially in southern Mali and you have an atmosphere that is hostile to good government, national unity or economic growth.
The local branch of ISIL calls itself ISGS (Islamic State in the Greater Sahara) and is frequently encountered in northeastern Mali (around Gao) on both sided of the Niger border. The ISIL personnel frequently clash with pro-government Tuareg militias and usually lose. It’s not that these ISIL men are not fanatic enough but that the Tuareg know the area well and have lots of experience in irregular warfare.
March 18, 2018: Canada has agreed to send two CH-47 transports and four smaller, but armed, CH-146 Griffon helicopters for transport and armed escort. The CH-146s are modern versions of the 1960s UH-1. These will replace, in August, smaller and less effective German NH90 transports. Some 250 Canadian troops will arrive with the helicopters to operate and protect them. The Canadians will be in Mali for a year. The CH-47s are the most popular transport helicopter as far as Mali peacekeepers are concerned.
March 12, 2018: In the north a pro-government militia revealed that some its members found an American military vehicle near the Niger border and are repairing it. They believe the vehicle was captured by Islamic terrorists during an October 2016 clash between Islamic terrorists and Niger troops working with American trainers and advisors. The Niger Islamic terrorists claim they seized dome vehicles and weapons during the October battle, which was basically an ambush of Niger troops who were on a training exercise. Four American Special Forces operators died in that action along with five Niger troops. The ISIL attackers took even higher casualties but in the chaos of battle were able to grab some loot.
March 9, 2018: In central Mali (Dialloube) four soldiers were killed when their vehicle hit a mine. The troops were returning from a successful operation that resulted in ten Islamic terrorists killed.
March 7, 2018: In the north (outside Gao) pro-government Tuareg militia again clashed with ISIL forces near Niger border and killed several of them. There was a similar clash in February when six Islamic terrorists were killed.
March 5, 2018: In light of the high casualty rate among peacekeepers (the highest in the world) in Mali and the loss of four Special Forces soldiers last October in Niger the U.S. will now provide American military personnel in Niger, Mali and Cameroon $225 a month in “Imminent Danger Pay”. The U.S. currently has 800 troops in Niger, 49 in Cameroon and 16 in Mali. This extra pay was made retroactive to October 2017. The U.S. believes the Islamic terrorists responsible for the October ambush spend a lot of their time on the Mali side of the Niger border.
March 2, 2018: In neighboring Burkina Faso JNIM took credit for an attack in the capital which involved eight Islamic terrorists making several attacks with firearms and one suicide car bomb. At least ten people died and over 80 were wounded. JNIM said this attack was in retaliation for recent French operations in the region that killed key JNIM personnel.
February 28, 2018: In central Mali (Mopti) four peacekeepers were killed and four wounded when their vehicle hit a mine. The day before six Mali soldiers died under similar circumstances.