In the three months since French led forces drove Islamic terrorists out of the cities of northern Mali, life has been hard up there. That’s because these cities depended a lot on tourism, which disappeared a year ago when the Islamic radicals and Tuareg rebels showed up. The tourists have not returned and the lost income has over a third of the population in the cities dependent on charity or foreign aid to survive. Hunger is common and many refugees in neighboring countries have not returned because of the poor economic conditions.
The Malian army is concentrating troops near the northeastern town of Kidal, which is controlled by the MNLA rebels. The MNLA means (in French) “Liberation Army of Azawad” and the Mali government is upset that MNLA men control most of the rural (and very thinly populated) areas in the north. The only large town the MNLA controls is Kidal and the Mali troops are threatening to take it back by force. It’s unlikely the Mali soldiers and police could handle the MNLA gunmen, so the concentration of security forces near Kidal is seen more as a bargaining tactic than as a real threat to the MNLA. Negotiations with the MNLA have not gone well as the rebels are insisting on an autonomy agreement and the French and African peacekeepers have been unwilling to shut down the MNLA for the Mali government. The Mali Army is seen as more of a threat to an elected Mali government than to the Tuareg rebels.
MNLA rebels torment the Mali troops with things like approving documents (like passes) with rubber stamps that say “State of Azawad”. That is the Tuareg term for their homeland in northern Mali and at the moment its capital is Kidal. The MNLA refuses to disarm but is willing to negotiate their role in the north. After invading in January France tolerated the MNLA as long as the rebels cooperated and did not fight the Mali army or government officials. Several hundred Tuareg Malian soldiers work directly for the French as scouts and translators. These men help the French determine which Tuareg rebels can be trusted and which are Islamic terrorists (usually members of MUJAO or Ansar Dine.)
The Tuareg rebels still want autonomy (self-rule) and the black African majority (90 percent of the population) in the south does not want to allow it. But the Mali Army, dominated by black Africans, is still a corrupt bunch of ill-trained poorly equipped and ineptly led gunmen who tend to serve whoever pays them. This army is still incapable of defeating the MNLA and so far has been unable to persuade the peacekeepers to do it for them. The MNLA expects the July elections (the 7th for the president the 21st for parliament) to bring another group of corrupt southerners to power.
French troops continue to search for and attack Islamic terrorist groups in the north. French intelligence has identified dozens of camps and equipment storage sites al Qaeda constructed in the north during the last year and, in the far northern mountains near the Algerian border, over the last decade. France is using its warplanes and smart bombs to attack these bases and supply dumps.
Sending in ground troops is a less attractive option because of the al Qaeda use of landmines and the possibility of ambush by nearby terrorists. The French troops can go in on foot, but there are more targets to be hit than there are infantry to hit all of them. It takes time and manpower to clear the mines.
Islamic terrorists who have fled Mali are showing up in nearby countries. Tunisia recently revealed that a group of fifty armed Islamic terrorists have been operating in the Atlas Mountains (the coastal mountain range that runs from Morocco to Tunisia) for the last six months and that at least a quarter of them were veterans of the recent fighting in Mali. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) had members from all over North Africa, but mostly from Algeria and while defeated in Mali it was not destroyed there. Hundreds of experienced Islamic terrorists have scattered and are reorganizing via email, cell phones and hand-carried documents. Recruiting has taken a hit, as the operations in Mali this year showed once more that Islamic radicals cannot stand up to professional soldiers and their “Islamic” governing methods tend to turn the population against them. This caused over a thousand AQIM members to desert, while nearly 500 were killed in the Mali fighting. Hundreds of local Islamic terrorists (Tuaregs and black Africans from countries in the region) have stayed in northern Mali and are carrying out a terrorism campaign. There are a few larger groups of these Islamic terrorists still wandering around the far north but they are being hunted by French aircraft and hit with smart bombs. Some of these Islamic terrorists have renounced their alliance with al Qaeda and are trying to evade attack by just being another group of Tuareg separatists.
One aspect of the Islamic terrorism in the north has not run for cover. That is the Wahhabi Moslems created over the last two decades by Saudi Arabian missionaries and money. Since the 1980s nearly a hundred billion dollars of Saudi money (from the government and private donations) has been used to send thousands of Wahhabi missionaries to (mostly Moslem) foreign countries and recruit new adherents to this conservative and intolerant form of Islam. The money went to build mosques and madrassas (religious schools) and pay Islamic conservative clergy and teachers to convert more people to the Wahhabi way of thinking.
Al Qaeda started as an organization of Wahhabi militants and Wahhabi believers still form the core of most Islamic terror organizations. The Saudis deny that they are subsidizing Islamic terrorism, but the Wahhabis preach hatred of non-Moslems and violence against those who do not accept the Wahhabi way. These Islamic radical missionaries have been active in Mali for over a decade and although less than ten percent of Mali Moslems adhere to Wahhabi beliefs, they are among the most active Moslems and did not get upset when, a year ago, Islamic terrorists in the north began destroying the holy places of the majority Sufi Moslems up there. Wahhabis were busy in the south as well as the north and police has recently discovered and arrested southerners who had formed terrorist cells as a result of their Wahhabi beliefs.
May 10, 2013: Five suicide bombers died in two attacks on peacekeepers. One bomber attacked a Niger Army camp 300 kilometers east of Gao. That one consisted of the bomber driving a car through the camp entrance checkpoint and being shot at by guards and other troops. The bomber was shot dead before he could detonate his explosives. The second attack was to the west, near Timbuktu, against a Mali Army camp. The four bombers died and two soldiers were wounded. These five bombers were recruited, trained and sent out by MOJWA (Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa) which is largely composed of black African Islamic radicals and led by Mauritanians.
MOJWA is unique among Islamic terrorist groups because its leadership is black African.
Mauritanian security forces have made it very difficult for MOJWA to operate in Mauritania and that’s why so many MOJWA members moved to Mali in the last year. Many are still there and not looking forward to the arrival of Mauritanian troops as peacekeepers.
May 7, 2013: AQIM released a video on the Internet in which Moslems worldwide were urged to attack French people and property wherever they could. AQIM has been calling for this sort of thing since French led forces drove them out of northern Mali last January. There have been a few attacks, but not much damage. In response, France has increased its efforts to hunt down Islamic militants in France.
Troops from Mali and Burkina Faso entered the village of Ber (50 kilometers northeast of Timbuktu). MNLA rebels had withdrawn from Ber to avoid a fight with the Burkina Faso peacekeepers. There had been fighting in Ber between Arab and Tuareg residents, which attracted the attention of the peacekeepers.
May 6, 2013: In neighboring Niger a Nigerian Air Force Alpha jet crashed as it was returning from a reconnaissance patrol over northern Mali. The two man crew of the Alpha jet died, so it will take more time to find out what exactly happened. Ground fire is unlikely as the jet was in Niger air space when it went down. Nigeria sent two of its light bombers (Alpha jets) to Niger last January as part of its contribution to the Mali peacekeeping force. Nigeria has used these jets in peacekeeping missions before, for scouting and attacking ground targets with machine-guns and bombs.
May 5, 2013: Morocco announced that it arrested members of two local Islamic terrorist cells and found that both groups had been in touch with Islamic terrorists in Mali.
May 4, 2013: In Gao a suicide bomber on a motorbike attacked a Mali Army patrol, killing himself and five soldiers. Elsewhere in Gao three Islamic terrorists in a car opened fire on Mali soldiers, killing two of them. Return fire killed all three of the Islamic terrorists.
April 28, 2013: Another French soldier was killed in northern Mali, this time by a roadside bomb. This makes six French soldiers lost in the last four months. There are about 4,500 French troops in Mali, about half of them in the far north pursuing the remnants of the Islamic terror groups that controlled the north for over six months.