Neighbors of Mali are criticizing the military government for using the Russian Wagner Group mercenaries rather than the more effective French counter-terrorism forces and troops from neighboring countries that still work with the French. The Islamic terrorists, mainly those of JNIM (Jamâ’ah Nusrah al Islâm wal Muslimîn, or Group for the support of Islam and Moslems) are gaining control over more of Mali and even making more frequent attacks near the capital Bamako down south, leaving over twenty dead so far this year.
In the northeast (south of Gao) ISGS (Islamic States in Greater Sahara) Islamic terrorists near the Niger border have taken advantage of the departure of French counterterrorism forces earlier this year by seizing and holding territory in Mali. This began six months ago with more attacks on the Niger border. The departing French and G5 counter-terrorism forces had kept the Islamic terrorists out of Mali. The Mali army and a small number of Russian (Wagner Group) military contractors have been unable to carry on with that effort or prevent the Islamic terror groups from crossing the border and advancing into Mali. ISGS is one of the two ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) groups in the region. When they showed up in 2018, ISGS operated mainly in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, especially the area where the three borders meet. Over the last three months ISGS have been working to take control of the border between Mali and Niger. Mali responded with soldiers and a handful of Wagner Group mercenaries but that was unsuccessful. After that Mali did nothing about the situation as its security forces and the UN peacekeepers were needed elsewhere. The Niger government was also unable to respond and sought to negotiate a deal with ISGS. Appearing in 2015 as an affiliate of ISIL and part of ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province) that changed in 2021 when ISGS declared itself separate from ISWAP and declared northern Mali and some areas in Niger and Burkina Faso its future caliphate. The ISIL affiliated Islamic terrorists are far more violent than the more numerous al Qaeda. This also means casualties for the 12,000 UN peacekeepers. ISGS violence involves attacks on Islamic terror groups that refuse to take orders from ISIL.
The tri-border (Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso) area has been a terrorist hotspot since 2018 because Islamic terror groups can just cross the border to escape any effective counterterrorism efforts. For that reason, this area has been called the Menaka Region. Previously this area was just part of the larger Gao Region, centered on one of the few cities in the north. The area being fought over is near where the borders of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso meet. Menaka has become ungovernable because so many Islamic terrorists and bandits now operate here. The French counterterrorism forces regularly searched for and attacked specific Islamic terrorist targets. The Mali government underestimated how important the French forces, with their airmobile troops, UAV surveillance and ground attack aircraft were in keeping the Islamic terrorists from establishing themselves inside Mali. The Mali government has no clear plan for dealing with this situation.
The neighbors see the reliance on Wagner Group as the main cause for more Islamic terrorists operating in Mali and spreading to neighboring countries. This includes Algeria, which has been largely Islamic terrorism free for over a decade. Now Algeria is seeing a return of Islamic terrorist activity because of the growing number of active Islamic terrorists across the border in northern Mali. Despite this, Mali does not want the French back because that makes it easier for foreigners to document the growing corruption of the military government. These corruption reports lead to more countries imposing individual sanctions on officers running the military government and profiting from the corruption.
January 19, 2023: Mali received a shipment of aircraft from Russia. There were two Mi-8 transport helicopters and eight fixed-wing Su-25 ground attack aircraft and L-39 trainers, which can also be armed with bombs and serve as a ground attack aircraft. Mali did not disclose how many Su-25s or L-39s they received.
January 6, 2023: The military government finally relented to international pressure and pardoned 49 Ivory Coast peacekeepers they arrested four months ago and were accused of being mercenaries and part of an effort to overthrow the Mali government. Four months ago, Mali released three female members of a 49 member Ivorian peacekeeping unit that has been imprisoned since July 10th. Diplomats from Togo had been negotiating with Mali to get all 49 soldiers released. The UN insists the Ivorians were supporting the peacekeeping effort in Mali. This all began when the government ordered the arrest of 49 Ivorian soldiers who had arrived at the airport outside the capital as part of the current UN peacekeeper rotation. The government accused the Ivorian peacekeepers of being mercenaries sent to overthrow the military government. The Mali government was using a technicality to detain the Ivorians, who were there to provide security for German peacekeepers in the capital, not join the Ivory Coast Army peacekeeper detachment in the north. When the spokesman for the UN peacekeeping force made comments on Twitter about Mali being notified about the arrival of the Ivorians, that spokesman was expelled. Mali also accused Ivory Coast of calling for sanctions against the Mali military government. In December Mali tried and convicted the Ivorian peacekeepers of conspiracy against the government. ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) threatened severe sanctions if Mali did not relent and that worked.
January 2, 2023: In the south (the capital Bamako) someone attacked a checkpoint outside the city, killing two militiamen and three civilians.
January 1, 2023: Ethiopia, Mali and neighboring Guinea were excluded from AGOA (the African Growth Opportunities Act) that eliminated customs duties on countries in the region. The exclusion was because these nations were ruled by military groups that deposed elected governments. For Mali and Guinea, there were already sanctions problems with ECOWAS and the international community. The Mali military government was feeling the pressure and members of the military government were concerned about their growing economic problems and losing control over more and more of the country because of Islamic terrorists. There is no easy way out of this other than handing control back to the civilian government they deposed. Several members of the military government are opposed to that solution but offer no practical alternative to the deteriorating situation.