The Mali military government hoped that hiring Russian Wagner Group mercenaries would enable Mali to maintain control of northern and central Mali. These two regions have been under growing attack by Islamic terror groups and Russians made it worse. The Mali military government is running out of people to blame for the mess they got themselves into. The problems began when the military government ordered the independent French Barkhane counterterrorism force out of Mali by the end of 2021. Since then, Mali has been threatening to force the 15,000 UN peacekeepers out of the country unless the UN agrees to give the Mali military government control over what the peacekeepers can do. The UN and AU nations supplying the peacekeepers refuse. The government is particularly angry at the way the peacekeepers report on atrocities committed by Mali security forces as well as the Russian Wagner Group military contractors. Brutality and incompetence by the military is what triggered a 2011 rebellion in the north and it was France that restored government control in the north and that Mali held elections and restored democratic government. The new “reform” government quickly proved to be as corrupt as previous ones and there followed two more military governments. The current one staged a coup against a military government. That is another example of how dysfunctional Mali governments are.
The government forced the French and G5 peacekeepers out by the end of 2021. Mali wanted to keep the 13,500 UN peacekeepers that maintains government control over the rebellious north. These peacekeepers are supplied by AU (African Union) nations and some of the African nations supplying these peacekeepers are withdrawing that support. A few percent of the peacekeeping force consists of troops from NATO nations that supply specialized services, especially transport helicopters and other services.
There was growing opposition among UN members for maintaining the expensive peacekeeper force, which is the most dangerous the UN is currently involved with. The Mali peacekeeping operation costs about half a billion dollars a month and that is about the only foreign aid Mali gets now that the military government is in control. Most foreign aid was halted because the government was stealing so much of the aid. It is difficult to steal any of the money spent on peacekeepers but the government seems to be trying to do just that.
Once the UN voted to maintain the Mali peacekeeping force for another year the military government began harassing the peacekeepers and threatening to expel all of them. The peacekeepers serve on contracts (with the UN) for varying periods usually between two and six months.
While the military government feuds with the UN, the Islamic terror groups continue advancing south towards the capital, which is near the southern border and Guinea, which provides access to the sea. In the southwest is Burkina Faso, which also has a military government and growing problems with Islamic terrorists.
Without the French-led counterterrorism effort in Mali, the Islamic terrorists are expanding the territory they control while also terrorizing civilians and killing soldiers and peacekeepers. The Islamic terrorists are also fighting each other. The larger Islamic terror group, an al Qaeda coalition called JNIM (Jamâ’ah Nusrah al Islâm wal Muslimîn, or Group for the support of Islam and Moslems), is gaining control over more of Mali and even making more frequent attacks near the capital Bamako down south.
In the north, ISGS (Islamic States in Greater Sahara) Islamic terrorists near the Niger border have taken advantage of the departure of French counterterrorism forces in 2021 by seizing and holding territory in Mali. This began 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, or unwilling, 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.
Since late 2022 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 current Mali military government has no clear plan for dealing with this situation and are withdrawing their counterterrorism forces south, to protect the capital and the more prosperous and populous south.
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. So far the strategy of the Mali military officers running the government is to abandon northern, and portions of central Mali to the Islamic terror groups. Complaints from the neighbors are ignored even though that means less foreign aid for Mali. The source of all these problems is corruption and Mali is the most corrupt and ineptly governed nation in the region. Because of that the French and AU counter-terrorism forces expelled from Mali have regrouped in neighboring countries that want protection from the growing Islamic terrorist activity in Mali. In the midst of all this, ambitious Mali politicians continue to blame all the problems on African and non-African foreigners as well as neighboring countries that cooperate with these evil foreigners and their schemes to destroy Mali. Russia is seen as a friend of Mali because Russia is one of the few countries with a veto power in the UN. This is not the same as control of the UN but does allow Russia to disrupt some UN efforts to interfere in Mali, especially criticism of the military government or publicizing the corruption and brutality of the Mali generals.
Mali has become a dangerous place for foreign journalists and local journalists that criticize the government or the Russian presence. The Islamic terrorists continue advancing south towards the capital Bamako and the nearby gold mines. Bamako contains about twelve percent of the national population and an even larger proportion of the national GDP. For over a year there has been growing Islamic terrorist activity near Bamako. Most of this is attacks on police checkpoints or ambushing police or soldiers. Some of the attackers were later discovered to be locals who were recruited by Islamic terror groups and put to work. Most (95 percent) Malians are Moslem.
May 25, 2023: The United States imposed sanctions on Ivan Maslov, the commander of Wagner Group forces in Mali and responsible for the recent effort to break the weapons import sanctions imposed on Russia via arms deals in the name of the Mali government.
May 21, 2023: In the north (outside Kidal) four peacekeepers were wounded when a roadside bomb was used to attack their vehicle. The peacekeepers were guarding a supply convoy. A search of the area revealed another roadside bomb, which was disposed of.
May 18, 2023: The Mali military government use of Russian Wagner Group mercenaries has not proved very effective for Mali but has provided Russian with an opportunity to get past the sanctions imposed on Russia and obtain needed weapons for Russian forces in Ukraine. Wagner arms buyers representing Wagner needs in Mali have been able to purchase large quantities of weapons and military equipment that is diverted to Russian forces in Ukraine. American intelligence efforts revealed the true destination of the weapons and equipment purchased for operations in Mali. Wagner was hired by the Mali military government in 2021 to train Mali troops, especially in the use of weapons purchased from Russia. The supply of Russian weapons, and Wagner mercenaries was disrupted in February 2022 when Russia invaded Ukraine and heavy sanctions were imposed on Russia by NATO countries. African countries didn’t care what Russia was doing in Ukraine but did care about their disrupted weapons supply line from Russia. There are about a thousand Wagner personnel in Mali and the Mali military government has no problem paying the mercenaries or for weapons purchased from Russia. Mali is a major producer of gold and the Russians will take payment in gold. Russia maintains a huge gold stockpile (about 2,300 tons), the fifth largest in the world.
May 12, 2023: The UN released its report on the March 2022 massacre of civilians in central Mali by Russian mercenaries and Mali soldiers. The UN investigators interviewed 157 civilians who were there and survived and collected compelling and ample evidence of the lawless behavior. The UN investigators also used satellite photos taken at the time of the incident that documented the many dead (about 500). Russia and the Mali government insist those dead bodies were Islamic terrorists but offer no evidence nor an explanation why the soldiers and Russians withdrew when armed Islamic terrorists did advance. The UN report did not specify what country the “foreign mercenaries” came from.
April 22, 2023: In central Mali, three suicide bombers were used to attack a town. The explosions destroyed twenty buildings, killing nine people and wounding over sixty. The army claimed that the explosions were caused by the Mali military using missile armed UAVs to destroy three vehicles carrying explosives.