Four United Nations Peacekeepers Killed In North Mali Attack

On Friday, April 2nd, 2021, the United Nations stated that four of its peacekeepers were killed along with several other injuries in an attack on its base in Aguelhok, a town in the north of Mali. According to Reuters, the mission statement said that the attack was carried out by several “heavily armed terrorists,” namely the Islamist insurgents that are active in northern Mali. 20 out of 100 of these terrorists were also killed in the attack, which lasted for around three hours.

The chain of events started with mortar fire, then an attempted car bomb, and finally a direct attack on the group of peacekeepers. The mission they were on, MINUSMA, has deployed more than 13,000 troops to control terrorism in the area – mainly violence by armed groups in northern and southern Mali. It has been one of the U.N.’s most deadly missions, amounting to around 230 deaths and even more injuries since 2013. Unfortunately, conditions have become even worse in the following years. Al Qaeda and Islamic State militants have become even more aggressive in the Sahel region of Africa. There have been several other attacks, including one on a military post in central Mali. Fatalities included three Malian soldiers, along with 17 wounded. The air force destroyed four heavily armed enemy vehicles, killing 10 attackers. No extremist group has taken responsibility for any of these attacks. 

Since early 2012, insurgent groups have been fighting against the Malian government for independence of northern Mali, namely Azawad. One of the groups is the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), and they have been fighting to make northern Mali independent for the Tuaregs, a Berber ethnic group. They partially succeeded, taking control of the region by mid-2012. Additionally, in 2012 the Malian president, Amadou Toumani Toure, was brought down from power during a mutinous coup d’etat. The National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and State (CNRDR) sent soldiers to suspend and take control of the constitution of Mali. Three of the country’s largest cities, mainly Kidal, Gao, and Timbuktu, were taken over by rebels in just a couple of days. The MNLA said that they had accomplished their goals and subsequently renamed northern Mali as Azawad. 

The MNLA initially received a lot of support from other groups, especially those who follow Islam. One in particular was Ansar Dine. However, this was short-lived. After control was taken of northern Mali, Ansar Dine, along with other Islamic groups, began imposing Sharia law in the area. The MNLA strongly opposed this sparking conflict among the groups. By the summer of 2012, the MNLA lost control of northern Mali to its Islamic opposition. This prompted the Malian government to attempt to retake the north with the aid of foreign military. In early 2013, French militants began their opposition against Islamists in northern Mali. Just a month later, the territory was retaken by the Malian military. A peace deal was signed by the government and rebels in mid-2013. However, later that year, rebels pulled out of the agreement, stating that the Malian government had not respected commitments to the deal. This resulted in a stalemate in the region. A ceasefire agreement was signed in early 2015, but terrorist attacks still occur, as seen by the recent attacks on peacekeeping groups. 

There have been various international interventions attempted in Mali. However, Islamist terrorist groups have remained violent, killing large groups of foreigners. There are several human rights issues, as there have been cases of abuse perpetrated by both Islamic groups and the Malian government. These include gang rape, execution, and the use of child soldiers. Unfortunately, attempts to provide aid to Malian inhabitants have also been squashed by militants. Time will only tell whether the U.N. will be able to make headway with its many peace operations in Mali.