French troops in Mali recently killed the leader of AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb). This was a big deal because the Maghreb is the Arab word for North Africa and that is where AQIM came from. Most of the Islamic terrorist violence in North Africa took place during the 1990s and by 2000 Islamic terror groups were in decline. That decline continues to the present and led to many surviving al Qaeda men heading south where they tried to rebuild their strength by recruiting locals. This ran into problems because the largely Arab population of North Africa had never got on well with the non-Arab people living south of the Sahara Desert. AQIM did get enthusiasm going down there and that led to local Islamic terrorist groups forming and operating independently of AQIM. As a result, the largest Islamic terror group in Mali is JNIM (Jamâ’ah Nusrah al Islâm wal Muslimîn, or Group for the support of Islam and Moslems). This is an al Qaeda coalition formed in early 2017 to consolidate the many separate Islamic terror groups in Mali. In part, this was a reaction to the growing threat from ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), which is hostile to everyone who is not ISIL and will attack or recruit from the JNIM members like AQIM, Ansar Dine, FLM and several other smaller groups. Another reason for the merger was to make it easier to pool resources, especially information and practical advice, and coordinate with other Islamic terror groups in the region. This reduces friction and destructive feuding. Making a coalition like this work is always difficult, especially considering the importance of ethnic differences.
FLM is Fulani (the largest local tribal contribution) while the other groups are largely Tuareg and Arab, and some have a lot of foreigners. Note that JNIM did not absorb all of AQIM groups in the area, just local groups that had long been identified with al Qaeda. Drug trade income keeps a lot of these factions in business and Islamic terrorists know that business and religious fanaticism do not mi. Those groups that do not go broke and wither to nothing.
Islamic terror group members evolved and the more radical JNIM members joined more radical groups like ISIL, which is universally hated by other Islamic terrorists and Moslems in general. Earlier in 2020, Malian ISIL members released a video on the Internet in which the group pledged allegiance to Abu Hamza al Qurayshi, the new ISIL leader. By 2018 there were
two ISIL “provinces” in central Africa. The smaller one was ISGS (Islamic State in Greater Sahara), which showed up in 2018. ISGS is currently active in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. The other, slightly older and larger, ISIL province was ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province). ISWAP was actually a faction of the Nigerian Boko Haram Islamic terrorists who had been around since 2004. ISWAP personnel are mostly in northeastern Nigeria as well as smaller numbers in Chad, Niger and northern Cameroon.
There has been increasing friction between ISGS and JNIM (and other al Qaeda affiliates). This is not unusual because, worldwide, ISIL demands all other Islamic terror groups acknowledge the supremacy of ISIL. This rarely happens anymore. In areas where both ISIL and al Qaeda operate, there is usually an informal truce or, as is now the case in Mali, open warfare. ISIL groups are usually outnumbered but often survive because they are more ruthless and vicious. In northern Mali, ISGS also accuses JNIM of collaborating with the security forces against the ISIL group. That is not unusual worldwide but it is unclear if it is actually happening in Mali. What is happening is that ISGS continues to recruit new members from al Qaeda factions. This is how ISIL was created back in 2013 and the practice continues.
While Islamic terrorists are the source of much violence and death in Mali and neighboring countries, the main source of violent death is still tribal feuds. In Mali, the primary one is between the Fulani and Dogon and so far in 2020 that feuding has killed more people than all the Islamic terrorist violence in Mali.
June 14, 2020: In central Mali (Segou) Islamic terrorists ambushed a military convoy. Fourteen vehicles and 44 soldiers were taken away. An air search soon found four of the vehicles and 32 of the soldiers but only eight were found alive, the other 24 had been killed.
June 13, 2020: In the north (outside Gao) a peacekeeper convoy was ambushed and two peacekeepers were killed.
June 12, 2020: So far about one percent of the 12,000 peacekeepers have tested positive for covid19 and two have died. While the peacekeepers have pretty good medical care, which they brought with them, the same cannot be said for Mali in general. There are only about 6,000 medical professionals in Mali, a nation of 19 million. Most of the medical personnel are concentrated in the capital and other cities, where less than half the population lives. As a result, the reported covid19 infections and deaths is incomplete.
So far there have been 93 confirmed cases per million people and five deaths per million in Mali. For the peacekeeper force alone that comes out to about 8,000 cases per million and 170 deaths per million. Peacekeepers are tested for covid19 and get prompt treatment. That is not the case for most Africans.
In most of the Mali covid19 would probably be mistaken for influenza or one of the many other diseases present. Covid19 often kills with what appears to be a case of pneumonia and most of the covid19 dead are elderly or those already ill from something else. That means in many parts of the world a covid19 death is seen as another loss to old age or an existing affliction. The peacekeepers are mainly young and very healthy, which is the group least likely to fall ill and die from covid19. In Mali, the covid19 threat is a recent one, even though the disease has been ravaging China since late 2019. It took a while for the virus to get noticed in Africa. The first case in Mali was not confirmed until March 25th. Throughout Africa, covid19 is not seen as a major new health threat because there are so many other endemic diseases and covid19 is not much more lethal than the annual influenza outbreak in a bad year.
June 5, 2020: In central Mali (Mopti), a Fulani village was attacked by armed men in uniforms and over two dozen villagers were killed. It was unclear if the attackers were soldiers (unlikely but not impossible) or Dogon tribesmen (more likely). Fighting between Dogon and Fulani tribal militias has been going on for years. There was a surge in attacks during 2019 that began with a spectacular March massacre where Dogon militia attacked a Fulani village. That action leftover 160 Fulani dead and it wasn’t just the Fulani who were outraged by this.
The Fulani were the ones who started this violence years ago as they sought to force farmers off the land and away from water supplies the Fulani coveted. But the Fulani raids were meant to terrorize, not exterminate. The Dogon tribe, one of the larger sedentary groups in central Mali, has always been the most organized and aggressive in confronting Fulani expansion into the better watered and more fertile (for grass and crops) Niger River Valley and beyond. After 2012 and the separatist/Islamic terrorist uprising in the north there was an increase in Fulani-farmer violence and the bloodiest incidents often involved Dogon militias fighting Fulani. Calls for the government to disarm the Dogon militias were popular for a while until police and army commanders convinced the government that attempting disarmament would be bloody and, in the long run futile. For the Dogon and Fulani, all this feuding is a matter of life or death while the politicians are concerned about appeasing popular outrage, which tends to fade quickly. Then there are the critical foreign media, which influence foreign aid decisions and are more important, especially for corrupt politicians who steal much of that aid. Getting the Fulani and Dogon and other farming tribes to settle their land and water disputes peacefully is more difficult but is the only lasting solution. Obtaining lasting peace agreements have proved difficult. Those fundamental conflicts are still there, which is why any current peace deal will be under growing economic pressure and eventually collapse into renewed violence. These most recent attacks on a Fulani village were preceded late May attacks that left 27 Dogon villagers dead.
The many Dogon-Fulani “ceasefires” were always at the mercy of natural (drought, hunger) and political (corrupt politicians) events. In the north, the basic problem is poverty and the negative impact banditry and Islamic terrorism is having on efforts to revive the economy. A lot of the “Islamic terrorist” violence up there is just bandits. It gets more attention if the victims describe the attackers as Islamic terrorists.
June 3, 2020: In the north (near the Algerian border) French troops killed Abdel Malek Droukdel (the leader of AQIM) and two of his followers. American UAVs, electronic surveillance and intelligence analysts assisted, as they have done in Africa since the 1990s. Droukdel has headed AQIM since 2007 and was the supreme leader of al Qaeda in North Africa. He was believed to be spending most of his time hiding out in northern Algeria but like many other senior Islamic terrorist leaders, much effort was put into keeping their location secret. The Americans had taken the lead in finding al Qaeda founder bin Laden and ISIL founder Baghdadi and the French believed those search efforts would work in Africa. As with bin Laden and Baghdadi, there was an effort to take Droukdel alive but that was not possible.
May 28, 2020: In central Mali (Mopti) there were three attacks during the last 24 hours, all carried out by armed men riding motorcycles firing on Dogon villages. At least 27 Dogon villagers were killed. The attackers suffered no losses because the attacks were brief and the attackers sped away before local police or militia could show up. This sort of thing usually leads to revenge attacks.
May 27, 2020: Algeria delivered 53 military vehicles to the Mali military. This was a gift, in recognition of the cooperation between Mali and Algeria against Islamic terrorists operating along their common border.