Assault on Military Base in Mali Sparks Fear of Rising Instability

Seventeen soldiers were killed and a further 35 wounded after Islamist militants launched an attack on a military base in Mali on Tuesday July 19th.

Islamist militants from three local groups are believed to have carried out the coordinated raid in which a government base in Nampala, central Mali, was temporarily occupied by enemy forces, Malian military spokesperson Souleymane Maiga told Reuters. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb launched an assault from the north and a militia comprised of ethnic Peul attacked from the southeast. Militants from the Macina Liberation Front, an affiliate of Ansar Dine, waited outside the town to ambush military reinforcement, Maiga said.

Militant Islamist group Ansar Dine, who seeks to impose sharia law across Mali, claimed responsibility for the attack over social media, whilst Omar Aldjana, head of the National Alliance for the Protection for Peul Identity and the Restoration of Justice announced over national radio that a Peul militia was responsible.

Malian defence minister Tieman Hubert Coulibaly confirmed on state television that 17 people were killed and an additional 35 wounded in the assault. “One thing is sure,” he said “this was a terrorist action that targeted a military objective. So an appropriate military response is forthcoming.” In addition to the loss of life, military weapons and vehicles were also seized by the combatants and removed from the base, a Malian intelligence source told Reuters.

The United Nations has strongly condemned the attack. The UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) currently has in excess of 13,000 troops operating in the country, none of which are in the Nampala region. The UN mission did, however, mobilise “major aerial reconnaissance and medical resources, in coordination with Malian authorities, in response to the attack”, a spokesperson said.

In 2015, a UN backed peace deal was signed between the government and six armed groups in order to “tackle the causes of lasting tensions in the region.” The deal was brokered following the Mali Civil War, which began in early 2012 when the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MLNA), initially backed by Ansar Dine, fought to increase autonomy in an area known as Azawad in the north of the country. Shortly after driving the Malian army out Azawad, infighting began between the MNLA and Ansar Dine as it became apparent that the groups had conflicting visions for the new state.

With the help of other extremist groups such as the Al Qaeda affiliate Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA), and other smaller Islamist factions, Ansar Dine took control of the north from the MLNA and began the widespread enforcement of Sharia law.

In early 2013, the Malian military, with assistance from a coalition of French and other African Union forces retook all Islamist held territory in the north, and the aforementioned ceasefire signed in 2015. Amnesty international reported that the conflict had created the countries worst human rights situation since the 1960’s, and the UN’s World Food Programme has estimated that around 200,000 people were displaced result of the civil conflict.

There is mounting concern that the latest attack in Mali is part of a larger campaign led by Islamist militants and rebel groups to further destablise the already precarious northern part of the nation. Mahamat Saleh Annadif, head of MINUSMA “stressed the need for all Malian parties to work together to prevent terrorist organisations from taking advantage of the situation to derail the peace process.” The collapse of the current ceasefire could send Mali back in to deep civil conflict creating yet another humanitarian crisis.

Following the attack the Malian government has declared a nationwide ten-day state of emergency. This follows the July 15th expiration of a previous state of emergency that was imposed after the Bamako hotel attack in November last year in which Islamist militants killed 20 hostages in the nations capital.

Sebastien Miller

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