Recent attacks in Northern Malian villages Karou, Ouatagouna, and Daoutegeft have left 51 people dead and several others injured, according to a report issued by local officials. The attacks were carried out simultaneously and victims described rampant looting, homes being burned to the ground, and herds of livestock being carried away. Other local sources reported that militants “stationed themselves at the towns’ entrances and fired indiscriminately upon civilians.” No groups have taken responsibility for the attack, but it is believed that the violence is associated with Islamist militants.
Since 2012, Mali, a landlocked country in the heart of Northwestern Africa’s Sahel region, has been battling a jihadist insurgency. Armed groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) are two of the most prominent threats to Malian communities. The conflicts have become so expansive that they spilled over into neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger, jeopardizing broader regional security. Millions have been forced to flee under the threat of violence, and thousands have been killed. A July 2020 report to the UN concluded that in Mali alone, nearly 240,000 people had been internally displaced — 54 percent of them women. Despite international outcry and continuous ongoing security operations, extremist groups continue to forcibly recruit child soldiers as they decimate communities.
There is a myriad of factors contributing to the perpetual turmoil and increasing insurgency throughout the Sahel. Experts agree on political instability, corruption, ethnic conflict, insufficient infrastructure, scattered, low-density population distributions, and limited opportunities for social and economic mobility as major factors attributing to increasing terrorist recruitment. In an address to the UN Security Council, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) urged that “The growing linkages between terrorism, organized crime, and intercommunal violence cannot be overemphasized. Terrorists continue to exploit latent ethnic animosities and the absence of the State in peripheral areas to advance their agenda.”
In response to the most recent attacks, the United Nations mission in Mali committed to intensifying pre-existing patrols and deployed additional troops to secure areas where the attacks occurred. The Sahel region, where the attacks were carried out, acts as a base for many troops: Malian, French and European forces, UN peacekeepers, and community-led self-defense militias who organize in response to increased risk of violence.
One thing is abundantly clear. The presence of troops d2oes not, and will not, prevent attacks against civilians. Continuously deploying additional troops does little to address the underlying causes behind the crisis; it’s like putting a Band-Aid on a broken dam. Steps to mitigate violence against citizens and secure long-term peace must be taken in a precursory manner rather than a reactionary one. In generating long-lasting peace, we must first address the reasons behind terrorist recruitment and take into account truly how complex the regional unrest has become. The complexity of the problem at hand requires collaborative mitigation efforts. In an address to the United Nations Security Council, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations urged “the international community must be motivated by a shared responsibility to act […] in a spirit of solidarity with the populations of the region.”
Combatting the insurgency in the Sahel will require collaborative efforts both on a regional and international level. These efforts should include the strengthening of interstate information-sharing networks and counter-terrorism response teams. Further, coordinated efforts between international and national organizations, local and foreign nonprofit organizations (NGOs), the health sector, and the financial sector are necessary in order to strengthen state institutions, bolster infrastructure, and stimulate local economies. Generating opportunities for social and economic mobility and reducing feelings of alienation among West Africans are essential for decreasing violence and curbing the accelerating rates of terrorist recruitment.
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