News / Africa

Analysts Warn Northern Mali Could Become Jihad Base

Fighters from Islamist group Ansar Dine stand guard during a hostage handover, in the desert outside Timbuktu, Mali, April 24, 2012.
Fighters from Islamist group Ansar Dine stand guard during a hostage handover, in the desert outside Timbuktu, Mali, April 24, 2012.
Anne Look
DAKAR, Senegal - Islamist militants appear to be in control of the vast lawless expanse of desert in northern Mali that they captured with other rebel groups in early April. Extremists from Pakistan and Nigeria have reportedly converged on the territory.  Some analysts and world leaders say the region could become a haven for terrorist activity.
 
Is Mali the next Afghanistan?

Analysts say current conditions in northern Mali are hardly a mirror image of Afghanistan in the mid-1990s when the Taliban seized control, creating a terrorist safe haven from which Osama bin Laden plotted his deadly 2001 attack on the United States.

But al-Qaida-friendly Islamist militants in Mali appear to be edging out other rebel groups for control of the north.

"It is not just a talibanization of northern Mali," said Kwesi Aning, the director of research for the Ghana-based Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Center, which has tracked the rise of armed groups and extremism in Africa’s Sahel region. "It is actually a radicalization of the Sahelian states of northern Mauritania, northern Mali, parts of northern Burkina Faso and northern Niger," added Aning. "That is why the international community, with ECOWAS, must ensure that Mali must be resolved one way or the other. Because if Mali collapses, the spillover effects and the domino effects of that crisis will be frightening."

Difficult desert

Northern Mali is part of the difficult-to-patrol desert that stretches from Mauritania to Chad and has been overrun by traffickers, terrorists and kidnappers for ransom in recent years.

Even before the crisis, Sahelian countries struggled to cooperate and develop a regional strategy against threat.  

Mali's neighbors, in particular Mauritania, accused Mali of giving safe haven in the north to criminal elements, including al-Qaida of the Islamic Maghreb in exchange for the group not attacking Mali.

Active groups

Tuareg separatists, known as the MNLA, and the Malian Islamist sect Ansar Dine captured the three northern regions of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu in early April during the chaos that followed a March 22 coup in Bamako. Ansar Dine is an offshoot of the Tuareg rebel movement and has ties to al-Qaida of the Islamic Maghreb, whose leaders have emerged from their desert hideouts and are now being spotted moving reely in the towns.

While the MNLA called for the creation of the long-fabled Tuareg homeland of Azawad as a secular state, Ansar Dine has begun imposing its brand of Islamic law in northern towns.

International threat

Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou said Monday, after meeting with French President Francois Hollande in Paris, the situation in northern Mali is an "international threat that requires an international answer."

Just days before the meeting, President Issofou told a French broadcaster that jihadists and drug smugglers are now the dominant forces in northern Mali. He says other forces with other objectives are marginal. He said Niger has information that Afghani and Pakistani nationals are in northern Mali training militants recruited from West African countries. He said they also have evidence that members of the Nigerian extremist sect Boko Haram are training recruits in Gao.

ECOWAS

West African regional bloc ECOWAS says it is ready to send several-thousand soldiers to Mali. But analysts told VOA that an ECOWAS force will take time and money to create. Even then, analysts say those troops would lack the training and experience in desert warfare needed to present a true threat against the heavily-armed militants entrenched in the north.

Many suspect the ECOWAS force would get bogged down in southern Mali, securing the post-coup government transition in Bamako.

France says it is backing a call from President Issoufou and other African leaders for ECOWAS to seek a U.N. Security Council mandate for military intervention in Mali.

President Issoufou says they will need logistical support from the United States, France and other powers. Analysts say the involvement of neighboring non-ECOWAS nations Mauritania and Algeria would also be key.

The international community has rejected efforts by rebel groups to declare independence or set up an Islamist state in the territory. A pact between the MNLA and Ansar Dine lasted less than a week, and the two groups reportedly came to blows in early June in Kidal.

Malians, in the southern and northern halves of the country, have rejected the occupation or any division of the country.  But some doubt the now-disorganized Malian army, already unable to beat back the rebels before the March coup, would be able to mount a meaningful offensive.

Burkina Faso has opened negotiations with the MNLA and there is talk a compromise to be reached on their demands for independence. An ECOWAS spokesman says the regional bloc is losing patience with rebels who it says must relinquish control of the towns or face military action.

Rebels' readiness

But some report Ansar Dine is better armed and less ready to give in.

An Ansar Dine spokesman in Gao, Oumar Ould Amma, says he is 100 percent convinced the Malian army will never beat them. He says maybe if Mali will be supported by France, the United States or ECOWAS. He says Ansar Dine is ready for that. He says they have already dedicated their lives to Allah. He says this fight will not be difficult for them, like swatting a cobweb. He says they are ready to die as martyrs.

As negotiations sputter along and the transitional government in Bamako struggles to find its footing, fears are growing the war over northern Mali is still to come.

You May Like

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said To Be Improving

Experimental drugs have been tried on six people: three Westerners and now, three African pyhysicians More

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities residents rebuild their lives, but many say everyone is being treated with suspicion More

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

Girls learn to object; FGM practitioners face penalties from jail sentences to stiff fines More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid