France believes they have the Islamic terrorists on the run in northern Mali and the Sahel but will not discuss the shortcomings of the Mali government. France controls 9,000 troops in the region. Half of them are French and the other half is the local G5 (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger) force that is supported by France and the EU.
The UN supports 14,000 peacekeepers, mainly in northern Mali. These peacekeepers are mainly from other African nations. There are some Western contingents that supply helicopter and other tech support. Half the French troops are in northern and central Mali as are about a third of the G5 force. That means Mali has about 18,000 foreign troops to help deal with the Islamic terrorists. The Mali security forces consist of 7,000 military and 4,500 police (for a population of 19 million). Most of the local “policing” is handled by tribal or clan organizations and volunteer militias (often without firearms). The national government is corrupt and resistant to change (becoming less corrupt). Foreign aid tends to disappear without much impact other than making government officials wealthier.
The growing tribal violence in central Mali is largely the fault of aggressive Fulani herders. Fulani tribesmen in general are also the biggest supporters of the current JNIM (Jamâ’ah Nusrah al Islâm wal Muslimîn, or Group for the support of Islam and Moslems) al Qaeda coalition. This organization was 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 (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), Ansar Dine, FLM and several other smaller groups. Another reason for the merger was to make it easier to pool resources (including information and 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. The FLM is Fulani (the largest local tribal contribution) while the other groups are largely Tuareg, 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. The income from the drug trade keeps a lot of these factions in business and the Islamic terrorists know that business and religious fanaticism do not mix and keep it that way. Those groups that did not went broke and withered to nothing.
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 (or at least protector) of all Islam. Coping with this aspect of Islamic radicalism has proved burdensome and ultimately becomes a major reason for Islamic terror movements failing and fading away (via desertion and other forms of self-destruction). The new JNIM is more heavily influenced by its Fulani component and that is another reason for more Islamic terrorist attacks in central Mali, which has long been the scene of conflict involving Fulanis. Largely because of the Fulani and JNIM there has been more Islamic terrorist activity since 2017 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. These central Mali attacks kill a lot of civilians and those civilians often belong to other local tribes (like the Dogon) and increases friction between the Fulani (who are herders) and the other tribes of central Mali (who tend to be farmers). Nearly all the people of central Mali are Moslem.
The French military support is important because the government is still crippled by corruption driven incompetence and the growing popularity of conservative Islam by the Mali Moslem majority (90 percent). The senior Islamic clerics in Mali are opposed to Islamic terrorism but are heavily influenced by the conservative Saudi Arabian Wahhabi form of Islam. Mali, like most African nations with large Moslem populations, has accepted Saudi offers of cash to build mosques and religious schools. The Saudis also offer Islamic clerics and teachers trained in Saudi Arabia. A growing number of these Saudi trained clerics and teachers received scholarships to study in Saudi Arabia. Sub-Saharan Moslems have not been very receptive to the idea of living according to Sharia (Islamic) law, which is what Wahhabism demands. Local Islamic clerics who regularly criticize corrupt behavior are respected if not always obeyed. One little discussed reason for the continued survival of Islamic terror groups in Mali is the inability of the government to prosecute captured Islamic terrorist leaders and even those who are convicted and imprisoned are often quietly released soon thereafter. Corruption is strongly suspected because that is how things are done in Mali. That is one reason why the primary drug smuggling routes to the Mediterranean coast run through Mali. This not only enriches local officials but also funds many of the local Islamic terrorist groups. Most of these Islamic terror factions would not exist except for the income provided from the drug smuggling. When it comes to Islamic terrorist leaders avoiding prison the influence of the local clerics who benefitted from the Saudi funded “Islamic charities” is at work here. While nearly all Mali Islamic clerics condemn Islamic terrorism they are less critical of any group that vigorously “defends Islam.”
Then there are the ultra-fanatic Islamic terrorists, primarily ISIL. Fulani are the major component of an ISIL faction that operates on both sides of the nearby Niger border as the ISGS (Islamic State in the Greater Sahara). Most of this violence is also about who controls fertile land and water supplies.
There is another ISIL faction in the region; Islamic State's West Africa Province (ISWAP), which is one of two factions of Nigeria based Boko Haram. While there are some Fulani in Boko Haram much of the Fulani violence in Nigeria is tribal, not religion based. In Nigeria the Fulani also fight local farmers (Christian and Moslem) for control of land and water. ISWAP personnel are mostly in northeastern Nigeria as well as smaller numbers in Chad, Niger and northern Cameroon. ISGS and ISWAP do not appear to work together except when it comes to Internet media activities, where ISWAP will mention ISGS accomplishments. ISIL does not have effective central authority at the moment with the senior leadership still dispersed and on the run from recent defeats in eastern Syria.
April 11, 2019: In east central Mali, France reported the successful completion of a three week counterterrorism sweep along the Burkina Faso border. The 850 ground troops (81 percent French the rest Malian) aided by French air support sought out and found several JNIM camps and groups of JNIM gunmen. At least 30 Islamic terrorists were killed and many documents (paper and electronic) were captured, along with a few prisoners. Burkina Faso sent more troops to their side of the border to prevent many of the Islamic terrorists from fleeing safely across the border.
In the northeast (Menaka) near the Niger border ISGS, the local ISIL faction, took credit for ambushing and killing a local pro-government Tuareg militia leader and several of his associates.
April 5, 2019: Over 30,000 people demonstrated in the capital to protest the government failure to halt the tribal violence in central Mali, mainly between Fulani and several other tribes. Over a thousand people have died over the last few years because of this, including 160 during an attack two days ago. Mainly because of this tribal violence over 80,000 people, mainly in central Mali, have fled their homes so far in 2019.
April 3, 2019: ISGS, the local ISIL group, released its first video showing an undated attack near the Niger border. Actually the video was released by ISWAP, the other central Africa ISIL faction.
April 2, 2019: The EU (European Union) delivered a Cessna 208 aircraft equipped to operate as an aerial reconnaissance aircraft. The fully equipped aircraft cost $5.5 million and was provided as foreign aid to the Mali air force. Aircraft like this have been used for over a decade in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
In east central Mali, near the Burkina Faso border, a roadside bomb hit a passing French armored vehicle, killing one French soldier and wounding another. Since 2013 French forces in Mali have lost 25 dead.
March 29, 2019: The U.S. called for a major reduction in Mali peacekeeping efforts because of continued violence there and lack of cooperation from the Mali government. The U.S. does not have any troops in Mali but is a major supplier of cash to keep the peacekeeping operation going as well as one of many contributors to the G5 force. Canada and Netherlands, which currently have troops in Mali (with the peacekeepers) are also withdrawing with few other Western nations willing to replace them (and the helicopter support they provide).
March 28, 2019: In east central Mali, across the border in Burkina Faso, Islamic terrorists (probably a JNIM faction) attacked a border outpost and killed four police. A truck was also destroyed.
March 24, 2019: President Ibrahim Keita replaced the head of the armed forces as well as the commander of the land forces. This was in response to the tribal violence in central Mali yesterday that left 160 (mostly Fulani) dead. The Mali security forces handle most of the security in central and southern Mali while foreign peacekeepers and French counter-terrorism forces handle the north and, more frequently of late, parts of central Mali as well. Keita also ordered the Dogon tribal militia believed responsible for the recent attacks to be disbanded. Dogon leaders insist the militia in question does not exist but the attackers were definitely Dogon and the Fulani (some of them associated with Islamic terror groups) want revenge. While the Fulani began this feud several years ago ending it is difficult. The Dogon (and other non-Fulani tribes) are hostile to the Islamic terror groups, especially the ones that are largely composed of Fulani men.
March 23, 2019: In central Mali fighting continued between Fulani herders and local Dogon farmers. The current incident has left about 157 dead, most of them Fulani civilians. This violence has become more frequent since late November 2018. In the last few years the rise of Islamic terrorist groups JMIM, with Fulani comprising most of the membership, has caused more friction with the Dogon people who, while Moslem, are hostile to Islamic terrorists. In the 2018 over 500 civilians have died in central Mali because of the Fulani-Dogon feud.