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Mali – Military ‘arrests Mali’s president, PM’ following gov’t reshuffle (Al Jazeera)

President Ndaw, PM Ouane reportedly taken to a military base outside the capital Bamako.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/5/24/military-arrest-malis-president-pm-following-govt-reshuffle

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(Mali) Four peacekeepers killed in northern Mali attack: UN (Al Jazeera)

Several other soldiers wounded in attack on MINUSMA’s base in Aguelhok, peacekeeping mission says.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/4/2/four-peacekeepers-killed-in-northern-mali-attack-un

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(Mali) Families of victims seek justice over French air strike in Mali (Al Jazeera)

France denies UN report that 19 unarmed civilians were killed in a January air strike on a remote Malian village.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/4/2/families-of-victims-seek-justice-over-french-air-strike-in-mali

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(Mali) Mali needs climate solutions, not more troops (Al Jazeera)

The root of the conflict in Mali is climate change-related and it cannot be resolved without climate action.
https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2021/3/31/mali-needs-climate-solutions-not-more-troops
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(Mali) Attackers on trucks and motorbikes raid Mali base, kill 33 troops (Al Jazeera)

Attack on a military post in Tessit, near Mali’s border with Burkina Faso and Niger, also left 14 soldiers wounded, army says.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/3/17/at-least-33-killed-in-northern-mali-attack

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(Mali) Six Malian soldiers killed in ‘complex and simultaneous’ attacks (Al Jazeera)

Army says coordinated twin assaults also left 18 troops wounded, with some 30 assailants killed in military response.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/1/24/six-malian-soldiers-killed-in-complex-and-simultaneous-attacks

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After Eight Years of Mali Campaign, France Seeks Exit Strategy (The Defense Post)

Eight years after France sent troops to Mali to prevent jihadists from overrunning the country, it faces tough choices over how to keep pursuing Islamist extremists without becoming bogged down in a potentially unwinnable war.

Five French soldiers have been killed by roadside bombs in Mali over the past 10 days, bringing to 50 the number of troops killed across the Sahel since France launched a campaign to clear northern Mali of jihadists in January 2013.

The latest victims included Sergeant Yvonne Huynh, the first female soldier killed since the French intervention began.

Her death Saturday, claimed by a group linked to al-Qaeda, coincided with a massacre across the border in western Niger, where unidentified gunmen killed around 100 villagers in one of the region’s worst atrocities.

These deaths — and disputed claims Tuesday from villagers in central Mali that up to 20 wedding guests were killed in an air strike — have clouded recent successes chalked up by France’s 5,100-member Barkhane counterterrorism force and its African partners.

Shifting Public Mood

In the past year, the French have killed the leader of the notorious al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb group, Abdelmalek Droukdel, as well as one of the military leaders of the al-Qaeda affiliated Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM).

Anxious to avoid becoming mired in a long Afghan-style conflict, Paris is preparing to announce a withdrawal of the 600 additional troops it deployed to the Sahel last year.

But whether the drawdown signals the beginning of the end of France’s Sahel mission is not yet clear.

French soldiers deployed to Operation Barkhane in the Sahel
French soldiers deployed to Operation Barkhane in the Sahel. Image: État-Major des Armées

Defense sources have told AFP that President Emmanuel Macron would like to go further in reducing the number of French troops in the Sahel region before the next presidential election in April/May 2022.

“Up until now the French have not really questioned France’s role in the Sahel. But you have to be very careful. Public opinion can change very quickly,” a government source told AFP.

Buying Time

In a sign that the Sahel mission could become a domestic political football, some opposition politicians have already begun to question the wisdom of staying the course.

“War in Mali: for how much longer?” the hard-left France Unbowed party queried on Monday.

“The more we help Mali the more it collapses,” said Marc-Antoine Perouse de Montclos of France’s Institute of Development Research (IRD). He pointed to a military coup in August that echoed a putsch in 2012, a year before the French arrived.

“The longer we stay the harder it will be to leave,” Perouse de Montclos said, adding: “Beyond the number of (French) dead, the real question is how to withdraw without losing face.”

But for Michael Shurkin, senior political scientist at the US-based defense think-tank Rand Corporation, “this was never going to be quick.”

Citing long-running governance issues in the region, he said: “All France can do is buy time and create space for its African partners to be doing what they should be doing.”

IS Versus al-Qaeda

The growing assertiveness of the Qaeda-linked GSIM, meanwhile, could vex plans for a staged pullout.

France had identified the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara group as the number-one threat to the region, but its efforts to stop IS, which was defeated in Syria, from regrouping in the Sahel have had the effect of bolstering its arch-rival.

“Today it (the GSIM) is Mali’s worst enemy,” Barkhane’s commander General Marc Conruyt acknowledged in November.

France is pinning many hopes on a new elite European force, Takuba, set up to support Malian combat troops following repeated appeals by Paris for more burden-sharing by its EU partners.

 

In the past year Barkhane has also stepped up its cooperation with a regional five-country force, the G5 Sahel, which France hopes will eventually shoulder regional security.

But the G5 Sahel remains poorly-trained and underfunded — it is chronically short of air power, surveillance, and intelligence-gathering.

In an interview with Radio France Internationale in early December, the G5 Sahel commander admitted that the force was still dependent on France “to offset the gaps in our national forces.”

“For us, as a joint force, it would be premature to consider (a reduction in Barkhane) and risky for the G5 Sahel,” General Oumarou Namata Gazama warned.

Defence Minister Florence Parly, in an interview with Le Parisien newspaper this week, reiterated that French forces were “not destined to stay forever” in the Sahel.

She insisted, though, that they would stay “as long as is necessary” for Sahel nations to “be capable of responding themselves to the (jihadist) threat, which is what they are starting to do.”

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France Says Kills Dozens of Mali Jihadists, Villagers Say Wedding Party Hit (The Defense Post)

France said Tuesday it had killed dozens of jihadists in a weekend air strike in central Mali, while several villagers and a local group said up to 20 wedding guests were killed by fire from a helicopter.

Social media has been buzzing with rumors since Sunday about events in Bounti, and villagers there told AFP that a wedding party was attacked by an unidentified helicopter.

Separately, French military headquarters told AFP fighter jets had “neutralized” dozens of jihadists in central Mali after the group had been tracked for several days. “The reports relating to a wedding do not match the observations that were made,” an army spokesman told AFP.

With no early statements from French or Malian officials, rumors filled the gap.

Confirmation of reports is difficult in a remote area where many jihadists are thought to operate.

Offensive aerial operations in Mali are mainly conducted by the Malian military or by the French anti-jihadist force Barkhane.

Villagers in Bounti said a lone helicopter opened fire in broad daylight, sowing panic among a crowd gathered for a wedding.

“It was run for your lives,” said Ahmadou Ghana, who said 19 people died, including two of his brothers, and several others were seriously wounded. “We were surprised by the intensity of the strike,” said another villager, Mady Dicko, adding: “The helicopter was flying very low.”

On Sunday, Tabital Pulakuu, an association that promotes the culture of Mali’s Fulani ethnic group, reported an “air strike that claimed the lives of at least 20 civilians” during a wedding.

A French military source who was familiar with Sunday’s operation told AFP: “There can’t be any doubts or ambiguity, there was no wedding.”

“This was a strike that was carried out after a particularly strict, multi-party process on a fully identified armed terrorist group, after collating information, intentions, posture, in a studied area,” the source said.

It remains unclear, however, whether the French military and the Bounti villagers were referring to the same event.

A spokesperson for the 13,000-strong United Nations’ peacekeeping force in Mali, known as MINUSMA, said the force was “not involved” in the events in Bounti.

Escalating Violence

The village lies in the jihadist-infested Mopti region, about 600 kilometers (370 miles) from the Malian capital Bamako.

The region is the epicenter of a deadly Islamist offensive that began in northern Mali in 2012 and then advanced into neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger, inflaming ethnic tensions along the way.

Thousands of soldiers and civilians have died in the conflict to date and hundreds of thousands of people have had to flee their homes.

But the Bounti deaths come during an apparent uptick in bloodshed across the Sahel.

On Saturday in western Niger, jihadists killed 100 civilians in one of the single largest massacres of non-combattants in the history of the insurgency.

France, which has 5,100 troops deployed across the Sahel, also lost five soldiers to roadside bombs in recent weeks.

Away from the fighting, the village tragedy will raise pressure on Mali’s interim government, which is dominated by figures with army links.

Army officers toppled president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on August 18 after weeks of protests — sparked in part by his failure to defeat the jihadists — before handing over to a caretaker government.

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MALI/AL QAEDA – Al-Qaeda branch claims killings of French soldiers in Mali (Al Jazeera)

Al-Qaeda’s branch in North Africa has claimed responsibility for killing two French soldiers who died when their armoured vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device in eastern Mali.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/1/5/al-qaeda-branch-claims-killings-of-french-soldiers-in-mali

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