September 29, 2015: Strategy Page
Since the 18 th the UN has arrested Ahmad al Mahdi al Faqi, accused him of war crimes while he was a leader of an Islamic terrorist group that ran Timbuktu in 2012 and sent him off to Europe for a trial. Specifically al Faqi is accused of ordering the destruction of numerous religious shrines in June and July 2012. Al Faqi was in charge of enforcing “Islamic manners” for Ansar Dine (a largely Malian Islamic terror group). In doing that he supervised the destruction of ancient tombs of Moslem clerics and scholars worshipped by Sufi Moslems. To some conservative Sunni Moslems, Sufis are heretics and their shrines are to be destroyed whenever possible. Ansar Dine was affiliated with al Qaeda which, along with ISIL, encourages this sort of righteous vandalism. The destruction of the tombs was condemned by many Moslem leaders worldwide, and the ICC (International Criminal Court) declared it a war crime. These Moslem shrines were big tourist attractions to visitors of all religions and important to the local economy. Since 2013 foreign donors have supported restoration efforts meant to address religious and economic concerns over this destruction.
The Islamic radicalism in the north has resonated in the south. In central Mali there are several pro-Islamic terrorism Islamic clerics who have been preaching support for Islamic terrorism. The government is under pressure to shut down these guys because they encourage young men to join radical groups and that has apparently worked. This problem is particularly acute among the Fulani people in central Mali. There are some twenty million Fulani living in the Sahel (the semi-desert area between the Sahara and the jungle) and some of those in northern Nigeria have become involved in Islamic terrorism via the local Boko Haram. There are over two million Fulani in Mali and the name of a new Islamic terror group in the south (FLM for Macina Liberation Front) openly identifies with the Fulani (Macina are the local Fulanis). This group became active in early 2015 and has claimed responsibility for several attacks since. It started out with calls for Fulani people to live according to strict Islamic rules. That in turn led to violence against tribal and village leaders who opposed this. That escalated to attacks on businesses and government facilities. FLM is composed mostly of young Fulani men and is associated with Ansar Dine (which is largely Tuareg). Although most Malians are Moslem, few want anything to do with Islamic terrorism and Boko Haram is seen as a major mistake and not welcome at all in Mali. But the Fulani have always seen themselves as a people apart, an attitude common with the nomadic peoples of the Sahel.
In the north the unrest is not just about the few remaining Islamic terrorists but about the changes caused by the 2012 rebellion. That was the fourth Tuareg uprising since 1962 and the most disruptive. Many of the Tuareg and Arab tribes up there gained or lost power because of the 2012 rebellion. The pro-government tribes feel entitled to more power. Many tribes found themselves facing economic problems because of the disruption to traditional smuggling activities. It is now much harder to sneak stuff into Algeria and the peacekeepers disrupted the lucrative drug smuggling operations. Most of the unrest in the north is about money and access to the means to obtain it. The government and the peacekeepers really can’t help much in disputes involving illegal activities. Not openly at least, but peacekeeper commanders and local officials do know what is really going on and have to work around it to reduce the violence and uncertainty. That is essential so that aid deliveries, rebuilding and economic growth can move forward.
In the last two years the Mali peacekeeping force has suffered nearly 200 casualties, including 42 killed. There have been 18 non-combat deaths. Mali has turned out to be one of the more dangerous UN peacekeeping assignments. Even so the casualties are less than half the peak rate for foreign troops in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.
September 21, 2015: The government agreed with northern leaders and postponed the scheduled October 25th local elections. In the north there is still a lot of unrest and many areas where voting workers cannot safely operate. Tuareg tribal leaders felt too many Tuareg would not be able to vote in October and thus Tuareg would be underrepresented and lose political power.
September 19, 2015: In the south gunmen fired on a police station in the town of Binh, near the Burkina Faso, killing four (two police and two civilians). This was the second such attack in the area within a week. Islamic terrorists are suspected. The police made three arrests in the wake of this latest attack and have dozens of FLM suspects under arrest or surveillance.
September 17, 2015: In the north (near Kidal) a pro-government militia clashed with CMA (a local Tuareg separatist group). There were dozens of casualties. The peacekeepers have been working for months to settle all the disputes the CMA and pro-government militias have. These are basically old antagonisms between clans and local strongmen. Many power relationships were upset when the Tuareg rebels and Islamic terrorists took control of the north during 2012 and sorting out the aftereffects is taking a long time and a lot of diplomatic and military effort.