World View: Jihadist Attacks in Mali Surge with Rise of al-Qaeda-Linked JNIM

Mali's government and coalitions of armed groups signed a peace deal in June 2015 to end years of fighting in the north that culminated with a takeover of the territory by jihadists in 2012

This morning’s key headlines from

  • Jihadist attacks on UN peacekeepers surge in Mali
  • JNIM (Group for Support of Islam and Muslims) takes credit for attacks

Jihadist attacks on UN peacekeepers surge in Mali

Djenna Mosque in Timbuktu, Mali, built around 1300
Djenna Mosque in Timbuktu, Mali, built around 1300

On September 24, jihadists attacked a convoy of UN peacekeepers in Kidal, in the region of Gao in Mali. The peacekeepers were all part of the UN peacekeeping force with the cumbersome name Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission (MINUSMA). The attack killed three Bangladeshi peacekeepers and injured four others.

This was just one of a surge of new jihadist attacks in the region, across Mali and into Niger and Burkina Faso. The surge in attacks threatens the entire United Nations peacekeeping strategy for Africa’s Sahel (the strip of Africa just below the Sahara desert, separating the Arab north from Black Africa to the south).

The security situation in Mali has “significantly worsened,” according to UN Secretary-General António Guterres. In the four months since June, extremist groups carried out 75 attacks: 44 against Malian forces, 21 against the UN’s MINUSMA operation and 10 against France’s Operation Barkhane, mostly in northern Mali, with Mali’s forces suffering most of the casualties. This rate of attacks is double those of the same period last year.

The United Nations has 13,000 peacekeepers in Mali, which ranks among its biggest and costliest missions. France has 4,000 troops serving across the Sahel region in five countries (Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad) in Operation Barkhane, launched in 2014. France would like to withdraw its troops and replace them with 5,000 soldiers and police in the “G5 Sahel Force, funded by the UN. However, “funded by the UN” means “mostly funded by the US,” and President Trump vetoed the proposal.

Instead, the proposal was changed to consist of troops from the same five countries, with an annual budget of $496 million (423 million euros) a year. But so far only about $127 million (108 million euros) has been pledged.

So a shortage of funding for peacekeeping is being combined with a surge in jihadist attacks, putting the entire UN peacekeeping plan in jeopardy. According to the UN’s Guterres, Mali’s peace process must be salvaged to prevent “a descent into a vicious cycle of violence and chaos, jeopardizing the future of Mali and its chances for lasting peace.” United Nations (25-Sep) and Relief Web (28-Sep) and African Union (26-Sep) and Long War Journal

JNIM (Group for Support of Islam and Muslims) takes credit for attacks

An al-Qaeda linked group formed early this year, the “Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims” (JNIM, Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslim) took credit for the August 24 attack in Kidal, as well as a number of other attacks, and released video as proof.

JNIM was formed by a merger of four Mali-based al-Qaeda linked groups, including Ansar Dine, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Al Murabitoon, and Katibat Macina (Macina Liberation Front).

These individual groups were responsible for a combined total of 250 al-Qaeda linked attacks in 2016, up 150 percent from 2015. Ansar Dine claimed over 80 attacks, while AQIM claimed 21. The majority were never claimed but were attributed to the jihadists.

The surge in jihadist attacks in 2017 is being attributed to the rise of JNIM. JNIM has performed some large attacks, made possible because the members of the merged organization are able to take advantage of each other’s resources. The JNIM merger is considered an ominous sign of things to come for all of West Africa.

Separately, many attacks in Burkina Faso are thought to be the work of Ansaroul Islam, a newly formed jihadist group led by an ally of Mali’s Ansar Dine. Long War Journal (18-Mar-2017) and AFP and Long War Journal (18-Apr)

Related Articles

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Mali, Kidal, Gao, Niger, Burkina Faso, Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission, MINUSMA, António Guterres, France, Mauritania, Chad, G5 Sahel Force, Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims, JNIM, Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslim, Ansar Dine, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, AQIM, Al Murabitoon, Katibat Macina, Macina Liberation Front, Ansaroul Islam
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