Africa Defense Forum
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Ongoing Violence Threatens MINUSMA’s Exit from Mali


Two Malian Army aircraft came under gunfire from rebels in mid-August when they landed at a United Nations Multidimensional Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) camp in Tessalit.

While the Malian Army said the attack was repelled without much difficulty, it came as MINUSMA was withdrawing from the camp. The U.N. mission also is withdrawing from another base in Aguelhok, also in the Kidal region, where Tuareg rebels have controlled swaths of area since 2013.

The rebels continuously battle Malian forces and attacks in northern Mali have intensified since MINUSMA completed the first phase of its withdrawal in August.

“The United Nations is gravely concerned about heightened tensions and increasing armed presence in northern Mali, which are likely to impede the timely and orderly departure of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA),” the mission said in a statement.

MIMUSMA is working to close 12 camps and one temporary operating base and hand them over to Malian authorities by the end of the year. MINUSMA forces totaling nearly 13,000 are expected to depart by December 31, leaving all security challenges to Malian forces and their allies, including Russia’s Wagner Group.

MINUSMA is attempting to remove its equipment, including about 5,500 sea containers and almost 4,000 vehicles, that are to be redeployed to other missions or returned to the countries that provided them.

However, it is possible that the equipment belonging either to the U.N. or troop-contributing countries will not be retrievable due to heightened violence. This would result in significant financial losses to the troop-contributing countries and jeopardize other U.N. operations. It also jeopardizes MINUSMA air operations meant to protect its personnel during the drawdown.

The recent military coup in neighboring Niger further complicates MINUSMA’s drawdown, mission head El-Ghassim Wane told the U.N. Security Council.

“It is vital we are able to transport equipment and material through Niger and to its ports for subsequent repatriation to troop-contributing countries and police-contributing countries concerned,” Wane said.

MINUSMA entered Mali a decade ago but was asked in June to leave “without delay” by the ruling junta. The last French troops left Mali in August 2022 after nine years. Violence has surged in Mali — and around the Sahel region — as international troops leave.

Since July, al-Qaida-linked terrorists have launched an offensive in central Mali while insurgents linked to the Islamic State group carry out attacks in the east. Timbuktu, once a popular tourist destination, is now blockaded by Tuareg rebels.

“This conflict is escalating fast,” Ulf Laessing, head of the Sahel program at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, told South African news website News24. “There is a risk of civil war.”

Civilians are increasingly bearing the brunt of violence committed by security forces, including the Wagner Group. Mali experienced a 38% increase in civilian attacks from January to late September compared to the same period in 2022, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED).

Wagner, which entered the country in 2021, is blamed for much of the violence against civilians. According to ACLED, 71% of Wagner’s engagement in political violence in Mali has taken the form of attacks targeting civilians.

So far this year, political violence levels in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger increased by 5% compared to the same period last year — and by 46% compared to 2021, ACLED reported.

The rising violence coincides with the departure of U.N. and French forces from the region. Already ousted by military regimes in Burkina Faso and Mali, France began leaving Niger in mid-October. Analysts warn that France’s withdrawal will leave a security vacuum that extremist organizations can exploit, as has happened in Burkina Faso and Mali.

“French forces might not have defeated these groups, but at least disrupted and limited their activities,” Rida Lyammouri, senior fellow at the Policy Center for the New South, a Morocco-based think tank, told the Associated Press.

These groups now will likely “expand to areas where French forces were providing support to Nigerien forces, especially on the borders with Mali and Burkina Faso,” Lyammouri added.

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