Mali has been in turmoil since a 2012 separatist uprising prompted the overthrow of the country’s president. Following the collapse of the country’s central government, Mali’s humanitarian crisis has been exacerbated by the dramatic rise of armed militant groups which later provoked a foreign military intervention into Mali in early 2013. The UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali and military missions led by G5 Sahel countries—Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, and Niger—were deployed to combat extremism in the region in April 2013.  France has taken the lead in this fight in Mali through Operation Barkhane, which deployed roughly 1,600French soldiers to protect civilians and aid local military efforts. Despite The Peace and Reconciliation agreement (2017) and other international mediation efforts, terrorism and instability continue to run rampant across the region.  Over 13,000peacekeepers are working in Mali on what has been called the UN’s most dangerous mission due to the high number of attacks on peacekeepers. The complex security situation in Mali is dramatized by pervasive food shortages throughout Africa’s Sahel region and in the last five years, over 3 million lives have been affected by the highest number of floods registered In Mali’s recent history.

Primary Terrorist Presence in Mali:

  • Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is a jihadist militant group and U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization (FTO) operating in the Sahara and Sahel. The group’s objectives include eliminating Western influence in Northern Africa, toppling governments deemed as traitors (Algeria, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia), and installing fundamentalist regimes based on sharia law.

  • Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) is mostly concentrated along the Mali-Niger border and mainly aims to replace regional governments with an Islamic state.

  • Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM) is affiliated with Al-Qaeda and aims to establish an Islamic state centered in Mali. JNIM wages attacks against security and peacekeeping forces in Mali.

  • Ansar Dine, translated as “Defenders of the Faith,” it is a militant Islamist group that was founded in December 2011 and played a vital role in the Malian 2012 coup. Ansar Dine, designated as an FTO by the U.S. in 2013, aims to establish Sharia law across Mali and targets western civilians.

  • Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) is a U.S.-sanctioned Specially Designated Global Terrorist group. This Al Qaeda-linked group in northern Mali also aims to implement sharia law.

Other Groups Engaged in the Conflict:

  • The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), formed in October 2011, is a separatist militant organization predominantly comprised of ethnic Tuaregs. The Tuaregs have rebelled against the government multiple times in an attempt to gain autonomy for the region they call Azawad.

  • G5 Sahel Joint Force is a five-nation counterterrorism military force comprised of  Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad. It is endorsed by the African Union and welcomed by the UN Security Council. The EU pledged $56 million, the US $60 million and Saudi Arabia $100 million in support of G5-Sahel (HRW).

  • France launched a military intervention in Mali in 2013  to resist Islamist fighters who had hijacked a Tuareg uprising. Operation Barkhane is a French regional counterterrorism operation (4,000-strong) that conducts numerous operations in Mali (HRW).

  • The United States cut off funding to the central government after the 2012 coup; however, in support of the French-led mission to combat extremism, the U.S. established a drone base in neighboring Niger (March 2013) to provide reconnaissance to France and other partners in the region.

Human Rights, Human Trafficking and Refugee Crises:

  • There are an estimated 140,100 Malian refugees and approximately 51,960 internally displaced persons (CFR) as of late 2018.

  • Mali is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Militant groups in the Sahel region often tax the trafficking and smuggling routes so this crisis emerges both as a humanitarian and security concern.

Other restrictions on Humanitarian Aid:

  • Humanitarian agencies’ ability to deliver aid is severely hampered by the attacks by local bandits (HRW). In the past four years, 118 peacekeepers have been killed — making the U.N. mission in Mali (MINUSMA)  the world body’s deadliest ongoing peace operation (Washington Post).

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