Mali: Running From Something

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April 14, 2021: Mali, plus neighbors Burkina Faso and Niger are now the area where most Islamic terrorist activity is going on. Islamic terror groups have been largely subdued,or put on the defensive in the rest of the world. That last place where Islamic terrorists can operate with the least resistance and interference is centered on Mali. This trend first manifested itself in 2010 when Islamic terrorists fleeing Algeria and the Middle East fled to the Sahel. This is the semi-desert region south of the Sahara Desert that stretches from the Atlantic to Ethiopia and the Nile River. With little water or any other resources, the Sahel has long been a refuge for people running from something. The Islamic terrorists often survive by pushing out local gangsters and taking over whatever profitable illegal activities are available. In northern Mali, the Sahel portion of the country, the gangster goldmine was acting as a link of the illegal smuggling pipeline that began in Central Africa and extended north to the Mediterranean. The most common, and profitable illegal goods were drugs, weapons and migrants. That last category included people able to pay their way and others who were basically captives being sold into slavery (usually sexual) in Europe. By 2012 the new Islamic terrorist gangsters controlled northern Mali so France took the initiative and moved north to quickly break Islamic terrorist control of the north. Not all the Islamic terrorists up there were killed or fled the region. Many stayed behind, operating clandestinely because they had nowhere better to go. France has since been at the center of organizing  growing counterterrorism forces currently consisting of about 20,000 troops. Over 70 percent of them are from nations in the western Sahel who want the Islamic terrorists gone. That’s not going to be easy because these Islamic fanatics have nowhere else to go and a steady, if dangerous, source of income.

In 2012 most of Islamic terrorist violence was still in Nigeria where a local group, Boko Haram, controlled a large chunk of northeast Nigeria. By 2016 Nigerian security forces had broken Boko Haram control but not eliminated the Islamic terrorists. As a result, since 2016 the western Sahel, centered on northern Mali, has become the epicenter of Islamic terrorist violence. Three nations (Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso) suffered over 4,000 Islamic terrorism related deaths in 2019 compared to a total of 770 during the three previous years. In 2020 the violence levels diminished a bit because of increased counter-terrorism efforts. This resulted in the deaths of several key Islamic terror group leaders. Reduced effectiveness for Islamic terror groups did not last because new leaders eventually emerged. Many of the Islamic terror groups in this region are very dependent on a few key leaders. Feuds and power struggles are a common problem within Islamic terror groups and the French have learned how to exploit that.

Currently the Sahel Islamic terrorists have fallen back on the tactic of only making major attacks they are more likely to win. In the last month that has not worked out in Mali, but was more successful in nearby countries. Even the successful attacks are costly in terms of personnel and equipment lost. This is also a common pattern when it comes to Islamic terrorism. This form of religion-based violence has been breaking out every few generations for nearly a thousand years and is more persistent since the 20th century because of more wealth (mainly oil) in the Moslem world and worldwide media plus cheaper long-distance travel and weapons. A permanent fix for this has to come from the Islamic community, which was never united theologically. There are current efforts to remedy this but that will take time. Meanwhile, new religious fanatics continue to be created by video of spectacular Islamic terrorist violence somewhere in the world.

Since 2014 five nations; Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria and Pakistan, have accounted for most of the terrorism-related deaths. That list has recently changed with Syria and Pakistan replaced by Somalia and Mali (including neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso). The largest source of Islamic terror deaths during that period was ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), a more radical faction of al Qaeda that is currently the most radical practitioner of Islamic terrorism. Islamic terrorism continues to be, as it has been since the 1990s, the main source of terrorism-related deaths, accounting for about 90 percent of the fatalities. The remainder of the terrorism-related deaths are ethnic (often tribal) conflicts in Africa and Asia. Purely political terrorism accounts for a fraction of one percent of all terrorism-related deaths and are outnumbered by terrorism deaths inflicted by common (often organized) criminals.

In central Africa, the Islamic terrorist activity in landlocked Mali has spread to neighboring Niger and especially Burkina Faso which is, like Mali, landlocked and has 17 million people (about 20 percent more than Mali). Burkina Faso also lacks the troublesome Tuareg/Arab minority in northern Mali. Because Burkina Faso is south of Mali it also lacks the totally Sahel climate found in northern Mali and neighboring Niger. Burkina Faso also has more religious diversity with a quarter of the population being Christian and 60 percent Moslem. Moreover, the Moslem population consists of several different “schools” of Islam, some of them quite hostile to Sunni Islamic terrorism as practiced by al Qaeda and ISIL. In contrast, Niger and its western neighbor Mauritania are almost all Moslem and have always been the home for some Islamic conservatives who were not satisfied unless their neighbors also adopted Islamic conservatism.

April 7, 2021: In the north (Gao) 250 British troops of the LRRG (Long Range Reconnaissance Group) completed a month of operations, spending most of their time on the long desert roads that connect three cities in the north, like Gao, with each other and dozens of nearby villages. The mechanized LRRG traces its origins back to World War II when the first LRRG operated to the northeast, closer to Mediterranean but in the same Sahara Desert climate and terrain found in northern Mali. Britain agreed to provide about 300 troops for three years and is sending numerous army units to Mali as a form of training and field trials of new equipment. The British Army is undergoing a major upgrade in equipment and weapons and is eager to test this new gear under combat, or at least adverse, conditions. Northern Mali provides both. Among the new items the LRRG brought with then was a new Drone40 40mm UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) that can be launched from the standard 40mm grenade launcher often carried by infantry units. Once launched, or thrown, like a grenade, Drone40 stays in the air by extending four quad-copter type propellers. Using a form of UAV flight most preferred by the infantry, Drone40 can pause to scrutinize areas or objects as well as enter structures, including caves. The hover ability is much more useful in built-up areas where you have to look into windows or alleys. If the troops find the enemy using a hovering UAV they can either call in an air or artillery strike or, if the enemy is close enough, use their grenade launcher to fire 40mm high-explosive grenades. If the enemy is really close and comes into view, you can open fire using your rifles. Drone40, and the LRRG, were both successful during their brief time keeping parts of northern Mali south.

April 2, 2021 : In the north (outside Kidal) a peacekeeper base was attacked by about a hundred Islamic terrorists on motorcycles and pickup trucks. The defenders lost four men, plus 19 wounded, but repulsed the assault, killing at least 22 of attackers and wounding even more. In other words, at least half the attackers became casualties and several motorcycles and trucks were lost as well. The attack went on for about three hours and the attackers used mortars, machine-guns and at least one suicide car bomber in their effort to overrun the base, which was manned by peacekeepers from neighboring Chad. The battle took place near Aguelhok, about 200 kilometers from the Algerian border. Some Islamic terror groups use camps on both sides of the border to avoid intense patrol activity in Mali or the less frequent patrols on the Algerian side.

Down south in central Mali (Diafarabe, near the Niger River) an army base was attacked by a large force of Islamic terrorists and briefly occupied before reinforcements arrived and the attackers were driven away, leaving ten dead behind and taking many dead and wounded with them. The army lost two dead with ten wounded.

March 21, 2021: In the northeast (south of Gao) in the tri-border area were the borders of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso meet, there was a major terrorist attack just across the border in Niger that left at least 137 civilians dead as Islamic terrorists raided several villages seeking loot and to intimidate local civilians into not cooperating with the security forces. most Islamic terrorist violence has been the tri-border area were the borders of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso meet. The Mali portion of the tri-border area was the original hot spot for Islamic terrorism in central Africa, predating the rapid growth, and decline of Boko Haram violence in northeast Nigeria between 2013 and 2016. Many Islamic terror groups prefer the tri-border area because they can escape a major counterterror operation in one country by just crossing the border. This has led the three nations to coordinate their counterterrorism efforts in this area. Mali has an advantage as they have the assistance of over 12,000 peacekeepers plus the 5,100 French counterterrorism troops who operate throughout the region. The French helped form a similar equivalent, the 5,000 strong G5 force. This is a local auxiliary to the French Sahel counterterrorism force. G5 troops are supplied by Mali and four neighboring countries while the EU (European Union) supplies millions of dollars a year to provide the G5 troops with additional equipment, weapons, training and supplements to their pay. This enables the French force to operate wherever it detects the presence of Islamic terrorists. The French first allocate a lot of intelligence and aerial surveillance efforts to the Islamic terror groups they locate. This enables the French to identify key leaders (for combat and support functions) and where they are. That enables the French to kill a lot of these key personnel. As counter-terror campaigns since the 1990s have demonstrated, this approach weakens and often destroys Islamic terror groups. The inability of local Islamic terrorists operating in or near Mali to carry out large attacks or anything at all in Europe is proof of that. Leave such groups alone that the quantity and quality of attacks will increase.

There was also a less lethal attack on the Mali side of the tri-border region when a large force of ISGS (Islamic State in Greater Sahara) gunmen attacked an army base, killing 33 soldiers and wounding 14 before retreating with .

 

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