Mali president’s chief of staff, three other officials killed by rebels tied to Al Qaeda

Map of Africa. There were Special Operations Forces deployments in 33 African countries in 2016.

Last week, the chief of staff for Mali’s president, Oumar Traore, and three other officials were killed by rebels in an ambush. The attack was a surprise, because it occurred not in the restive racial minority regions of Mali’s arid north, where the Tuareg minority has intermittently fought the government since 1990, but rather in Mali’s southwest, which has more rain and is inhabited by Mali’s major black ethnic groups. The ambush took place in rural area of Nara in Mali’s southwestern Koulikoro region

Mali is one of several landlocked West African countries battling armed groups during the past decade.

Rebels linked to the al-Qaeda and ISIS terrorist groups have seized tens of thousands of square miles of territory across the region, killed thousands and caused millions of people to flee and become refugees in their own or neighboring countries. Three months ago, 14 Mali soldiers were killed and 11 wounded in two separate attacks in central Mali after their vehicles struck explosive devices.

The Mali government’s failure to control the violence has led to two military coups since 2020, but each new military government has been as ineffective as the government that preceded it. Mali is one of the world’s poorest and most corrupt countries. Because it is such a failed state, it has received billions of dollars in foreign aid from France, the U.S., and other countries, even as its less corrupt but equally poor neighbor Burkina Faso has received less aid, because the world is less afraid of it dissolving into chaos the way Mali may.

In 2022, French troops, who defeated an earlier Tuareg insurgency, completed a withdrawal from Mali as relations deteriorated between Mali and France due to the military coups, which angered the West, and the perceived ineffectiveness of French troops in permanently eradicating the insurgency (although Mali’s own military was even less effective).

There have also been growing tensions between the West and Mali’s military government following the arrival of Wagner Group mercenaries from Russia to supplement Mali’s military. Such mercenaries are even more brutal than Mali’s own soldiers in dealing with villages that contain insurgent sympathizers or minority groups opposed to the government.

In December, the U.S. imposed sanctions on more than 40 people for human rights abuses in nine foreign nations, including Karim Keita, son of former Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

Keita headed the Security and Defense Commission of the National Assembly from February 2014 until his father, Mali’s president, was deposed in a 2020 coup. The younger Keita collected bribes, embezzled funds, and arranged the termination of officials who objected to his actions, allegedly.

Keita is accused of being involved in the kidnapping, torture, and murder of reporter Birama Toure, who was investigating Keita’s corruption.

A month ago, 44 civilians were killed by armed terrorist groups in two villages in Mali’s neighbor, the landlocked African nation of Burkina Faso. The killings occurred in the country’s arid northeast, near the Niger border. The killings targeted people in the villages of Kourakou and Tondobi overnight on Thursday. 31 people were killed in Kourakou and 13 in Tondobi.

The impoverished nation of Burkina Faso is trying to cope with a seven-year-old campaign by jihadists linked to al-Qaida and Islamic State.

Since the jihadists launched their campaign from the neighbouring country of Mali seven years ago, more than 10,000 civilians have been killed, and at least 2 million people have become refugees in their own country. Official figures say jihadists effectively control about 40% of the country, although this is mostly arid, thinly-populated sections of the country.

Historically, Burkina Faso was less corrupt, ethnically-divided, and anti-business than neighboring Mali, and a better business environment than neighboring Niger. But the terrorist insurgency has inflicted great harm on the impoverished country’s economy. And mother nature is crueler to it than neighboring countries that have access to more water or minerals, enabling them to be no poorer than it despite being governed worse (like Mali, which has been governed much worse than Burkina Faso for much of its existence, but has a similar per capita income).

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By GIL