Mali Vows to Stabilize Militant-Hit Region Before Elections

By Olivier Monnier and Kaourou Magassa

  Malian anti-terrorist special forces arrive at a tourist resort after an attack in Bamako on June 19, 2017.  Photographer: Habibou  Kouyate/AFP/Getty Images

Malian anti-terrorist special forces arrive at a tourist resort after an attack in Bamako on June 19, 2017.
Photographer: Habibou Kouyate/AFP/Getty Images

Mali will deploy additional troops to its central region in a bid to halt an escalation of Islamist militant attacks as pressure mounts to stabilize the West African nation before elections later this year.

“Our biggest concern is the security of central Mali,” Security Minister Salif Traore said Monday in an interview in the capital, Bamako. “We are under time constraints because we have major elections scheduled in six months.”

Mali has been gripped by violence since ethnic Tuareg rebels began a separatist insurgency and joined forces with Islamist militants to seize control of the sparsely populated north in 2012. While a 2013 French military intervention prevented the insurgents from marching southward to the capital, jihadists resorted to attacking Mali’s military and the United Nations peacekeeping force that arrived after the French operation.

Militant groups, in particular the al-Qaeda-backed Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims, appear to have expanded their area of operations, the UN said in December. More attacks occurred in the central Mopti and Segou regions during the last three months of 2017 than in the five northern regions combined. Last week, 21 soldiers were killed in four separate attacks across the country, and 26 civilians died when their bus hit a landmine near the town of Boni.

Young Recruits

The militants are known to recruit young men and have even ordered the closure of dozens of schools in Mali’s central region, where the state and military had little presence, Traore said.

“They’ve been trying to fill the power vacuum and turn young people against the central authority of the state,” he said. “It’s in the small isolated places that they began to infiltrate the local population to impose their ideas.”

Presidential elections are scheduled for July, with President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita expected to seek a second five-year term. Local and regional votes, initially set for December 2017, have been postponed to April.

Militants were probably responsible for a series of attacks last week in response to the start of the deployment of a regional stabilization force known as G5 Sahel, according to Traore. The Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims claimed responsibility for two attacks that took place on Jan. 27 and Jan. 28, Al-Akhbar, a private Mauritanian news agency, reported on Tuesday.

Five West African countries — Niger, Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania — are assembling 5,000 troops to secure regional borders, in addition to a 4,000-strong French mobile force and more than 12,000 UN peacekeepers in Mali.

“We’re boosting the strength of the G5 Sahel and it’s going to frustrate them,” Traore said. “That’s why the armed groups are trying to send a message. They’re fearing the deployment.”


Sign up for Updates

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of new posts by email.