Malian Armed Forces, the last bastion against terrorism?

Malian Armed Forces

For the past decade, the Malian Armed Forces have been defending Mali against the terrorist threat. Armed groups such as the JNIM and ISGS have recently clashed directly with them in southern Mali. On April 8, the Malian Armed Forces organized various operations in the center and south of the country to liberate villages occupied by terrorists. During these operations, they succeeded in defeating 22 terrorists, including four in the Niono area.

Since their creation, the Malian Armed Forces have continued to evolve, but what have they become and what resources do they have to compete with the various terrorist groups?

Creation of the army and evolution of the workforce

Founded following Mali’s independence on October 1, 1960, the MAF has a total of more than 13,000 men and is composed of an army, an air force, a national guard and a police.
They are grouped in several camps:

  • Soundiata-Keïta in Kati ;
  • Fort Cheick Sidi Bekaye in Timbuktu;
  • Firhoun Ag Alinçar in Gao;
  • Camp I in Kidal.

In addition, since October 30, 2019, MINUSMA has handed over two renovated infrastructures to the MAF as part of its continuing support mission in Mali.
The renovation work involved Camp Hamadoun Bocary Barry as well as Air Force Base 102.

The Malian Armed Forces are placed under the command-in-chief of the President of the Provisional Republic (Assimi Goita), assisted by the Minister of Defense, the Chief of Staff is General Oumar Diarra. Training is provided by several schools and training centers:

  • Markala,
  • Bapho,
  • Tiby,
  • Koutiala,
  • Yanfolila,
  • the Alioune Blondin Beye Peacekeeping School in Bamako,
  • the Inter-Arms Military School in Koulikoro,
  • the military Prytanee of Kati
  • the administration military School  in Koulikoro,
  • the Non-Commissioned Officers School in Banankoro,
  • the school for non-commissioned officers of the gendarmerie in Faladié,
  • the Police Officers School

Malian Armed Forces equipment

In the 1990s, the Malian army’s weapons, armor and vehicles were of French or Russian origin and donated by France.
The military orientation and programming law has enabled the army to acquire new motorized and airborne equipment. This law allowed for an investment of about 1,230 billion CFA francs over the period 2015-2019. And 1,230 billion in 2021
This sum was also intended to allow the recruitment and upgrading of military personnel.

During the same period, a lot of equipment was donated by France, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, the European Union and Germany.
In short, the inventory of equipment for the Malian Armed Forces is difficult and comes from many different sources.

Since his arrival, the President of the Transition, Colonel Assimi Goïta, has shown his willingness to equip the Malian Armed Forces with adequate equipment and materials, to enable them to better face the new security threats with the increase in Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).

It is therefore aware of the current security challenge facing Mali that the President of the Transition is working on the acquisition of adequate equipment. As was the case on December 3rd 2021 with the handing over of the keys to four combat helicopters and the handing over of a large batch of materials and motorized equipment.

Historical operations & foreign aid

Malian armed forces have participated in peacekeeping missions of ONU in the Democratic Republic of Congo (ONUC in 1960-1964 and MONUC since 1999), Liberia in 1990, Sierra Leone in 1997 and the Central African Republic in 2000.

The Agacher Strip War, also known as the War of Christmas, was a border conflict between Mali and Burkina Faso in 1985 over the Agacher Strip, a 160-kilometer-long and 30-kilometer-wide strip of semi-desert land between northern Burkina Faso and eastern Mali.

During the 2000s and early 2010s, Malian soldiers were trained by U.S. instructors as part of Operation Enduring Freedom – Trans Sahara.
The Malian army suffered from the integration of Tuareg rebels into the regular army following a 1992 agreement between the government and the rebel groups. This is due to the Tuareg’s complicated relationship with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the North African branch of al Qaeda (AQ), which is based on a convergence of interests (independence from Bamako) rather than Salafist ideology.

Between January and April 2012, the Malian army suffered a series of setbacks that led to the division of the country. In December 2012, the European Union decided to provide assistance to the Malian army through the European Union Training Mission in Mali.
On January 11, 2013, France launched Operation Serval at the request of the Malian government. The multinational military operation that has been going on since January 11, 2013, the objective is the implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2085.

At the beginning of February 2013, the number of troops is estimated by the Malian Minister of Foreign Affairs Tiéman Hubert Coulibaly to be less than 3,000 operational troops out of a theoretical strength of 14,000.

The training mission was launched on February 18, 2013 and presented in Bamako on February 20. More than 500 military personnel, including 200 European trainers, arrived in Mali to teach the Malian military starting April 2, 2013. Four battalions of 700 men are to be trained each year. The training mission is based at the Joint Military School in Koulikoro.

In recent years, despite training by international experts, high performance equipment and a large quantity of weapons, the MAF have alternated between successes and violent defeats against Armed Terrorist Groups such as the JNIM or ISGS.

At present, the MAF are in the spotlight with the WAGNER group in relation to new modes of action and accusations of exactions against the population. Like the collaborative operations between Burkina Faso and Niger, the Malian army would benefit from getting closer to its neighbors to continue securing its national territory, which has been damaged by the Armed Terrorist Groups. Dialogue and negotiation with local terrorist groups are still being considered by many Malian actors.

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