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Mali Catastrophe Accelerating under Junta Rule – Africa Center for … – Africa Center for Strategic Studies

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By the Africa Center for Strategic Studies
July 10, 2023
The threat of militant Islamist groups is spreading to all parts of Mali as the military junta stakes its claim to stay in power indefinitely.
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Mali map 2023
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The threat from militant Islamist groups in Mali continues to escalate in tempo and scale. With the military junta’s continued exclusion of other domestic political actors and alienation of regional and international security partners, the prospect of Mali’s collapse grows increasingly likely.
“Mali is on pace to see over 1,000 violent events involving militant Islamist groups in 2023, eclipsing last year’s record levels of violence and a nearly three-fold increase from when the junta seized power in 2020.”
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The military junta, which has repeatedly ignored timetables to transition to a legitimate, civilian authority, has systematically alienated security partners from neighboring states, ECOWAS, France, the European Union, and the United Nations. It has effectively ceded territorial control of Mali’s northern region to the militant Islamist groups, inflaming tensions with the Tuareg groups that had been cooperating with the government to combat the militant Islamists. While Mali teeters under the strain of the escalating security threat, the junta appears focused on consolidating its hold on power.
“The military junta has repeatedly ignored timetables to transition to a legitimate, civilian authority.”
With Mali’s coup widely seen as enabled by Russia, the junta has always had close ties with Moscow. While never openly acknowledged, in December 2021, the junta negotiated to have an estimated 1,000 Russian Wagner paramilitary forces deploy to Mali as part of a $10.9 million/month deal that also provides Wagner access to Malian gold mines. Security has only grown worse since.
The deteriorating security in Mali is unfolding distinctly across its northern, central, and southern regions.
The junta has ceded authority over significant parts of northern Mali, occasionally conducting an airstrike or reconnaissance mission. The junta’s growing restrictions on the movement of MINUSMA forces over the past year (widely seen as a way of reducing oversight for the junta and Wagner’s human rights violations) have significantly inhibited the UN’s effectiveness. Northern Mali has subsequently become a battleground between rival militant Islamist groups vying for territory previously patrolled by UN peacekeepers. Several areas are now under de facto control of militant Islamist groups where they exact brutal justice such as executions and amputations.
A Nigérien MINUSMA peacekeeper at Menaka. (Photo: MINUSMA)
The junta’s push to force MINUSMA’s departure has brought Mali to the brink of renewed civil war in the north. The UN Peacekeeping mission guaranteed the Algiers Accord between the Malian government and northern separatist groups. Its departure has been described as a “fatal blow” to the peace agreement by leaders of the northern communities. Meanwhile, MINUSMA has provided foundational security to Menaka city. Its departure from Menaka’s urban center would be a serious symbolic and material victory for ISGS, which would threaten Malian citizens’ security throughout the north.
Militant Islamist group violence continues to be most concentrated in central Mali’s Mopti and Segou regions. Operations by the junta and Wagner forces have further enflamed the insurgency in this region by targeting civilians. The Macina Liberation Front (FLM), the most active militant Islamist group in Mali, has appeared emboldened. It has staged increasingly complicated attacks on critical infrastructure, like the airfield in Sévaré, and on Wagner and Malian armed forces’ positions. FLM has also pushed farther into southern Mali. FLM has leveraged junta and Wagner human rights abuses and violence against civilians to mobilize recruitment.
Militant Islamist violence has expanded to areas of Mali that had previously been quiet. FLM fighters have staged complex ambushes and attacks on the military and security forces throughout southern Mali, displaying a breadth of reach and coordination that have been more typical of their activities in central and northern Mali. Attacks near Mali’s southwestern borders with Senegal and Mauritania in the region of Kayes had been rare in the last decade. In the last 12 months this has begun to change.
More on:    Countering Violent Extremism in Africa  The Sahel  Russia in Africa
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