Mali continues to suffer, more than most of its neighbors, from corruption, bad government, tribal conflicts and Islamic terrorism, in that order. Only the Islamic terrorism gets much attention outside of Mali. As in the rest of the world, Islamic terrorists are the result of those other maladies, not their cause.
Currently the mass media are making the most of the
recent success of the Pakistan-backed Taliban in Afghanistan. African governments and local media are fretting about the growth of Islamic terrorism in Africa, especially the ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) ultraviolence. ISIL is at the top of the kill chain when it comes to Islamic terror groups. That means ISIL is always at war with all other Islamic terrorists.
In Africa most of the local Islamic terrorists are affiliated with al Qaeda in addition to a multitude of small ISIL affiliates. Since
2018 there have been two ISIL “provinces” in central Africa. The smaller one is 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, which is actually a faction of the Nigerian Boko Haram Islamic terror group, which saw itself as the “African Taliban” and has been around since 2004. For a few years Boko Haram was, in terms of people killed, more of a problem than any other ISIL group, including the combined ISIL operations in Syria and Iraq.
ISWAP personnel are mostly in northeastern Nigeria as well as smaller numbers in Chad, Niger and northern Cameroon. Earlier in 2021 ISWAP killed the Boko Haram leaders and is trying to absorb Boko Haram. That is encountering a lot of resistance. There is also ISCAP (Islamic State Central Africa Province) which is actually most present in southern Africa and only really active in the southeast African state of Mozambique. The problem with ISIL in southern Africa is that Moslems are a small minority there, while the majority Christian and pre-Christian religions fight back, often while ISIL is trying to get established locally. Another tiny ISIL affiliate is ISS (Islamic State in Somalia) which was never popular with the local Islamic terrorists (al Shabaab). ISS spends most of its time and effort trying to survive in the northern mountains.
In Africa, corrupt local governments are a far greater threat but those same governments appreciate Islamic terrorists, especially ISIL, because it gives the local leaders something to blame all their economic and political problems on.
The Afghan ISIL faction is known as Islamic State Khorasan (ISK), which is named after the province of the first caliphate and included eastern Iran, part of Afghanistan and Central Asia. Khorasan also referred to a pre-Islamic portion of a Persian Empire. ISK is apparently willing to cooperate with the Afghan Taliban against mutual enemies. That sort of thing has worked before, but only in the short term. Long-term ISIL is a threat to everyone and any spectacular ISIL success is brief because cooperation is not part of their core beliefs.
Following The Money
Mali has been told by foreign donors that most of the aid will stop coming if Mali does not carry out a significant reduction in corruption, government ineffectiveness and overall instability. Mali has suffered three military coups (government takeovers) since 2012. None of these takeovers were about corruption, but rather anger at the corrupt politicians stealing money meant to finance operations against Islamic terrorist and separatist minorities in the north. That crisis was not unexpected but the intensity of the violence in the north was and by 2011, more than the army could handle. Mali never needed much of a military and that was reflected in how decades of corrupt rulers treated it; as another source of jobs for supporters. Many of the officers thought otherwise and argued for more realistic treatment of the military and the threats it was facing up north.
Foreign aid donors agreed with the minority of Mali officers who called for more professionalism. The most popular, in the army, officers were both professional and corrupt and that’s how we got a military government that staged a coup against itself (the 2020 coup) recently (May 24th.) That may turn out to be a coup too far.
The May coup was not well received by foreign aid donors. This includes France, which pays for its 5,100 counterterrorism troops who operate throughout the region. The military was not happy with foreign donor demands that they cooperate with political factions that made possible the 2020 coup. These groups and the coup leaders formed the interim (and foreign donor approved) CNT (National Transitional Council) government. The foreign donors insisted that a civilian lead the CNT with one of the military coup leaders as his deputy. The army and civilian members of the CNT did not get along. The main disagreement that triggered the May coup was about efforts to negotiate with Islamic terror groups and ineffective measures to prosecute corrupt politicians.
The May coup was led by the army colonel who was appointed deputy head of the CNT, and he replaced the civilian who originally held that job. The May coup promptly replaced many CNT officials with army officers or civilians known to be pro-military. When foreign donors, including France, criticized this, the army threatened to seek financial aid elsewhere. There was no elsewhere for the Mali coup leaders. The Mali officers’ threats said a lot about their motives, which was mainly about maintaining their power and helping themselves to a portion of foreign aid.
August 21, 2021: Chad is moving 600 of its G5 Force counterterrorism troops from Mali back to Chad, to deal with increased terrorist activity there. Chad has had its entire G5 contingent in Mali quite often. T
he regional G5 Sahel is seen as a better peacekeeping solution because it consists of the best troops from five Sahel nations (Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad) and is capable of dealing with Islamic terrorism throughout the Sahel, which is below the Sahara Desert and extends across most of Africa.
G5 began operations in early 2018 after three years of planning and preparation. By late 2016 the countries involved agreed on the details. This included who would provide what in terms of the 5,000 soldiers and police needed and where they would be based. The G5 force was to be stationed in three operational areas along with troops familiar with local conditions. Sahel East consists of troops from Chad and Niger. Sahel Central is staffed by troops from Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso while Sahel West mainly uses troops from Mali and Mauritania. The G5 force has been active in the three borders area (where borders of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso meet), since 2018 and found itself spending more and more time in this terrorist hotspot. A successful G5 Force would enable France to shrink and eventually disband the force of 4,000 French troops it has deployed in the Sahel since 2013 and reduce the 13,000 strong UN peacekeeper force in Mali. Increasingly, central Mali is where there has been more and more Islamic terror group activity, not all of it violent.
August 19, 2021: In central Mali (Mopti) fifteen soldiers died and 34 were wounded when their convoy was hit by a roadside bomb followed by gunfire. Many Islamic terrorist groups are active in the area, most of them affiliated with al Qaeda and attacks on convoys occur at least once every month or two. More frequent attacks are directed at local civilians who will not cooperate with the terrorist groups.
August 8, 2021: In the northeast (south of Gao) in the three-borders (Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso) area, an Islamic terror group carried out simultaneous attacks on rural villages, firing on villagers as the village was looted and buildings set on fire. At least 51 villagers died and many more were wounded or injured. This area, where the three borders meet, has long been known for the presence of Islamic terrorist camps and bases. Often these raids take place across the border from where the group is based. These raids are violent so that other villagers in the area will be more careful about what they say about Islamic terror groups in the area and surrender supplies and other items the terrorists demand. This is a common tactic with terrorists and gangsters worldwide.