UN peacekeeper killed, others wounded in Mali attack

A UN armored personnel carrier in Timbuktu on September 19, 2016
A UN armored personnel carrier in Timbuktu on September 19, 2016

A UN peacekeeper was killed and eight others injured on Monday in an attack on their camp in northeastern Mali near the Algerian border, the United Nations said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the four coordinated assaults targeting the UN mission known as MINUSMA and said that attacks on peacekeepers are war crimes.

A peacekeeper from Chad was killed in the attacks at the Aguelhok camp in the region of Kidal, said a statement from Ban’s spokesman.

Following a spate of mortar rounds fired at the Aguelhok camp, two military vehicles were dispatched and hit an explosive device “that led to the death of a blue helmet,” MINUSMA said.

MaliNorthern Mali fell into the hands of jihadists linked to Al-Qaeda in early 2012.

France intervened in January 2013 to drive the Islamist fighters away from the north and the UN mission was deployed a few months later, but large tracts of Mali are still not controlled by domestic or UN troops.

Analysts say tribal rivalries have led to a deterioration of the security situation in the north.

Ban expressed concern over ceasefire violations by the armed groups that signed a peace deal for Mali last year.

A UN soldier was killed and four others were injured on August 7 when their vehicle struck an explosive device in Mali’s northeastern Kidal region. The dead soldier and the injured were from Chad.

A total of 32 peacekeepers from MINUSMA have been killed so far this year, according to the UN peacekeeping website.

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Mali defense minister fired after jihadists temporarily seize town

Mali
Mali

Mali’s defense minister Tieman Hubert Coulibaly was fired Saturday, officials told AFP, a day after jihadists briefly took control of a town in the country’s center.

A decree released by the government stated his post had been revoked after militants stepped up attacks in the country’s center in recent months, targeting government and military installations.

A senior official in the Malian defense ministry told AFP it came following “the latest waves of insecurity in central Mali,” referring to jihadists’ seizure of the town of Boni on Friday and an attack on a central Mali military base in Nampala that killed several soldiers in July.

The Malian army on Saturday regained control of Boni, which is home to several thousand people, from the jihadists who had escaped with a local official as a hostage.

The militants fired on administrative buildings and set fire to the mayor’s office, leading the army to recall its troops from the vicinity.

“The jihadists left Boni in the night and today around 8am (0800 GMT) the Malian army came back to take control of the town,” a Malian security source told AFP.

A source close to the UN mission in the country, which is known by the acronym MINUSMA, said two helicopters were providing cover over the town, “to support the Malian army, who are now in control.”

However, an administrative source in the town said the jihadists “kidnapped a Boni community official” whom they accused of giving information to the security forces.

Ongoing international military intervention since January 2013 has driven Islamist fighters away from major urban centers which they had briefly controlled, but large tracts of Mali are still not controlled by domestic or foreign troops.

Jihadist groups early last year began to carry out attacks in central Mali as well as the long-troubled north.

Ansar Dine claimed responsibility for the July 19 attack on Nampala, in which 17 soldiers were killed, 37 were wounded and six were reported missing, according to the official toll.

Abdoulaye Idrissa Maiga, formerly land minister, was named to replace Coulibaly, according to the government statement.

Town In Central Mali Falls Under Jihadist Control

Mali ConflictThe central Malian town of Boni was under suspected jihadist control on Friday after administrative buildings were attacked and the army was driven from the area, an elected official and a security source told AFP.

“At the moment jihadists are in control of the town of Boni. They infiltrated the town and today fired on several buildings,” said the official, who requested anonymity, adding “the army is no longer there.”

A child leads his wood-filled donkey cart past a destroyed Malian army armored vehicle
A child leads his wood-filled donkey cart past a destroyed Malian army armored vehicle

Boni is home to several thousand people and at nightfall remained under the control of the unidentified armed group who fired on administrative buildings and burnt down the mayor’s office.

“We asked our forces present in Boni to withdraw to the locality of Douentza, which has been done,” a military source told AFP, also asking not to be named as the Malian army has refused to comment on the incident.

Douentza is around 56 miles from Boni.

Ongoing international military intervention since January 2013 has driven Islamist fighters away from major urban centres, but large tracts of Mali are still not controlled by domestic or foreign troops.

Jihadist groups early last year began to carry out attacks in central Mali as well as the long-troubled north.

France reorganized its military presence in the Sahel around four bases

This is a huge field of operations as large as Europe, but almost entirely desert. “Armed terrorist groups”  that travel do not know national boundaries France flag mapwith a line drawn by former colonial administrations in the middle of… nothing.

The French army, which is at the forefront in the war against the jihadists in the Sahel, decided to abstract these boundaries. To this end, the Ministry of Defense in depth reorganized its military presence in Africa.

Everything starts with an analysis of the threat after defeating – but not entirely removing – terrorist organizations in northern Mali in the first half of 2013, the French army and intelligence services, not surprisingly, found that these were, in part, scattered in neighboring states.

The-France-reorganized-its-military-presence-in-the-Sahel-around-four-bases-300x264For the French military, three states in the region now form a single theater Mali, Niger and Chad.Their three governments involved in the fight against terrorism and cooperate with France.

In the region, France will have four main bases: N’Djamena (Chad), Niamey (Niger), Gao (Mali) and Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso). At N’Djamena: combat aircraft Rafale and Mirage 2000, supported by tankers and ground forces – and the staff who will control operations in the Sahel. In Niamey, intelligence assets, including two new Reaper drones purchased in the United States and will be operational in the coming days. These monitoring devices controlled from the ground in Niamey are collocated with those of the U.S. Air Force. This base can also accommodate combat aircraft and Atlantique 2 maritime patrol, used both above the desert and the ocean. In Gao, land forces, with a large helicopter detachment. Finally, more discreetly, in Ouagadougou, the group of special forces Sabre operates throughout the area from the rear base. 

From these four main bases, the French army will add support points further north, that is to say, closer to possible interception areas of terrorist groups. Two of them were chosen: Tessalit, in the far north of Mali, and Faya-Largeau in northern Chad. Another is still being sought in the north-eastern Niger, knowing that special forces are already present in the Arlit mining (northwest) area. These support points must have an airstrip for delivering light vehicle or from where helicopters could operate. In total, this operation in the Sahel has 3,000 French soldiers permanently assigned with air assets totaling nearly thirty aircraft (fighter, transport, helicopters, drones, etc).

The whole of this new operation, which has not yet received a generic name, will be supported by three rear bases in Africa: Dakar (Senegal), Abidjan (Ivory Coast) and Libreville (Gabon).

In total, about 6,000 French soldiers who remain active in Africa, permanently, half are in the Sahel. That’s a lot. More so than any other Western country. The idea to withdraw from the continent, caressed in the drafting of the previous White Paper of Defence (2008), fizzled. France remains more than ever, a permanent African military power.

The United States generally supports this choice. Washington already provides military support and intelligence to the French. The United States wants to disengage where they can and therefore are happy to let the French support the fight against terrorism in the Sahel area. European countries are delighted to see Paris work in its former colonies and they are even willing to give an occasional helping hand.

Seeing 3000 French troops permanently deployed in the south of Algeria may not amuse everyone in Algeria, where relations with the former colonial power remain passionate. On paper, Algiers and Paris fight the same jihadist groups, but the ground realities and sensitivities of each other does not make for a close and trusting cooperation. Algeria could therefore remain the blind spot of the “regionalization of the Sahel”, implemented by France.

France Seeks Mali Exit, Handover to UN Peacekeepers

Mali ConflictMali 1Nearly a month after launching an offensive in Mali to drive out Islamist extremists, France mulled the withdrawal of its troops Thursday after asking the UN to prepare a peacekeeping force to take the baton.

France’s intervention has largely driven the Al-Qaeda-linked rebels, who controlled northern Mali for 10 months and had threatened to advance on the capital, to the remote mountains of the far northeast, along the Algerian border.

But French-led forces continue to come under attack in reclaimed territory, and with fears of a prolonged insurgency, Paris is keen to hand over the military burden.

The French defence ministry said that the intervention in its former colony has already cost France 70 million euros ($95 million), with the figure rising by 2.7 million euros per day.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the French-led operation had so far killed “several hundred” Al-Qaeda-linked militants.

“This is a real war with significant losses but I’m not going to get into an accounting exercise,” he said when asked about the toll.

France’s sole fatality so far has been a helicopter pilot killed at the start of the operation. Mali said 11 of its troops were killed and 60 wounded in early fighting but has not since released a new death toll.

A spokesman for one of the rebel groups, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), said: “The combat isn’t over. The attacks are going to continue.”

French helicopters have been patrolling the road between Gao and Douentza, 250 miles to the southwest along the road that leads to the capital, Bamako.

The area is littered with land mines and improvised explosive devices, according to security sources.

Two Malian soldiers were killed last week when their vehicle drove over a mine outside Douentza.

United Nations flag 2After announcing plans to start withdrawing its 4,000 troops from Mali in March, France called for a United Nations peacekeeping force to take over.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said a peacekeeping force could be in place by April, incorporating troops being deployed under the banner of a West African intervention force, AFISMA, into a UN mission.

“Once security is assured, we can certainly envisage, without changing the structures, that this takes place in the framework of a peacekeeping operation,” Fabius told journalists in Paris.

“This gives the advantage of being under the umbrella of the United Nations, under its financing,” he said.

France’s ambassador to the UN, Gerard Araud, said it would take “several weeks” to make an assessment on sending peacekeepers.

UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous acknowledged objections raised by the Bamako transitional government but said such a force is supported by the African Union, the Community of West African States and key UN members.

Regional Leaders Want African Troop Surge in Mali

Mali-carte-EN_29-01West African heads of state have decided to send more troops to Mali in an effort to speed up the defeat of Islamic militants who control parts of that West African country, according to regional official.

The decision of the leaders is expected to lead to a deployment of 5,000 to 6,000 troops, up from the initially planned 3,300 troops.

Interveiw with Sonny Ugoh, ECOWAS Communications Director
Interveiw with Sonny Ugoh, ECOWAS Communications Director

The decision came as regional defense chiefs met over the weekend, said Sonny Ugoh, communications director of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

“They met to see how they can fast track the deployment of regional troops to support the Malian Armed Forces and the French Forces in northern Mali,” said Ugoh.

“It has become obvious to all that we will need beyond the 3,300 original pledges that they had [made] to deal with the situation,” Ugoh said. “Chadians are coming with about 2,000 troops and one or two other African countries have indicated that they also want to contribute.

“What is important is that there should be an expeditious deployment so that we can support the Malians and French Forces who are making quite some progress in dealing with the situation in the north,” he said. “And we need more boots on the ground to flush out the Islamists in northern Mali.”

Ugoh says contrary to earlier reports, the regional force will take on the Islamists militarily in an effort to restore government control in northern Mali.

“Of course they are equipped for combat role as part of the U.N. Security Council mandate,” Ugoh said of the African troops. “What we have said is that we needed the support of the international community to plug the gaps that we have identified in their ability to function effectively.”

He said ECOWAS wants to make sure that Mali remains a united country with a credible government.

“We want to maintain Mali’s territorial integrity. And then we have to go back to the consultative process and to develop a roadmap that will enable Malians to restore democratic governance, have a president that is elected and an elected parliament and have an inclusive process that gives everybody a sense of belonging and that is sustainable,” he said.

Is Qatar Fuelling the Crisis in North Mali?

Since Islamist groups exploited a military coup in the Malian capital of Bamako in early 2012 to take control of the entire north of the country, accusations of Qatari involvement in a crisis that has seen France deploy troops have been growing.

Marine Le Pen
Marine Le Pen
Michelle Demessine
Michelle Demessine

Last week two French politicians explicitly accused Qatar of giving material support to separatists and Islamists in north Mali, adding fuel to speculation that the Emirate is playing a behind-the-scenes role in spreading Islamic fundamentalism in Africa.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen and Communist Party Senator Michelle Demessine both said that that Qatar had questions to answer.“If Qatar is objecting to France’s engagement in Mali it’s because intervention risks destroying Doha’s most fundamentalist allies,” Le Pen said in a statement on her party website, in response to a call by Qatari Prime Minister

Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani
Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani

Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani for dialogue with the Islamists.

The first accusations of Qatari involvement with Tuareg separatists and Islamist groups came in a June 2012 article in respected French weekly the Canard Enchainé.

In a piece title “Our friend Qatar is financing Mali’s Islamists”, the newspaper alleged that the oil-rich Gulf state was financing the separatists.

It quoted an unnamed source in French military intelligence saying: “The MNLA [secular Tuareg separatists], al Qaeda-linked Ansar Dine and MUJAO [movement for unity and Jihad in West Africa] have all received cash from Doha.”

Sadou Diallo
Sadou Diallo

A month later Sadou Diallo, the mayor of the north Malian city of Gao [which had fallen to the Islamists] told RTL radio: “The French government knows perfectly well who is supporting these terrorists. Qatar, for example, continues to send so-called aid and food every day to the airports of Gao and Timbuktu.”

Regional geopolitical expert Mehdi Lazar, who specializes on Qatar, wrote in French weekly news magazine L’Express in December that Doha’s relationship with predominantly Muslim north Mali was deeply entrenched.

“Qatar has an established a network of institutions it funds in Mali, including madrassas, schools and charities that it has been funding from the 1980s,” he wrote, adding that Qatar would be expecting a return on this investment.

Mehdi Lazar
Mehdi Lazar

“Mali has huge oil and gas potential and it needs help developing its infrastructure,” he said. “Qatar is well placed to help, and could also, on the back of good relations with an Islamist-ruled north Mali, exploit rich gold and uranium deposits in the country.”

Qatar’s foreign policy is also motivated by religion, wrote Lazar, and success in Mali would “greatly increase the Emirate’s influence in West Africa and the Sahel region”.

“If the Qatari influence in the current situation in Mali turns out to be real, it must be seen in the context of two branches of a global competition,” he wrote. “Firstly, competition with Saudi Arabia to be the center of Sunni Islam; secondly, in terms of competition between the Sunni and Shiite branches of the Muslim faith.

“It would be an extension of the effort Qatar is already making in Egypt, Libya and in Tunisia.”

Lazar does not believe, however, that Qatar will get directly involved in the conflict unfolding in Mali, however, and that rather than getting its hands dirty, Doha will try to position itself as mediator in future negotiations between the Malian government, the various rebel groups in the north of the country, Algeria and France.