As the world’s eyes remain on Niger and a possible (and increasingly distant) ECOWAS-coordinated military intervention, in Mali, a jihadist-torn neighboring country since 2012, The most recent development of events gives rise to fears of an increase in violence in the north of the country. The Malian Armed Forces (FAMA) in cooperation with the Wagner mercenarieshave launched an operation aimed at finally ousting the Azawad independence movement, largely led by Tuareg groups but linked in some aspects to terrorist groups linked to Al Qaeda.
It all started with the departure of the United Nations Mission in the Country (MINUSMA) blue helmets from the town of Ber, which is 56 kilometers east of the historic city of Timbuktu. A motivated game after Termination of the mission in Mali by order of the military junta that has ruled the country since the August 2021 coup, which in turn was triggered by events in Niger. Soon after, several armed groups wanted to take over the recently abandoned base, namely: the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), the Malian Army and its Wagner partners, and the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (JNIM). The tension was palpable as the MINUSMA convoy was twice attacked by terrorists on the way back to Bamako.
The Malian General Staff issued a statement last week saying that FAMA had managed to take over the Ber camp after CMA forces withdrew for strategic reasons and without resistance. It has been ten years since the last Malian soldier entered the city. Later videos also showed the presence of Russian mercenaries among the new occupiers.
Almost parallel to the takeover of Ber by the FAMA, JNIM leaders ordered their men to block access routes to Timbuktu from Mauritania and Algeria to complete preparations for an attack on the city where a generous MINUSMA contingent was previously stationed. As specified in their orders, any carrier who breaches the blockade will be executed. The city is currently surrounded by jihadist elements and there are fears an attack is imminent.
Dissatisfaction between Azawad movements
So it is clear that The map of northern Mali faces profound changes following the withdrawal of the UN contingent, which in a sense served to maintain a balance of power between the CMA and the FAME. Vast tracts of land are left open for occupation by the fastest and best-prepared armed group. And it is significant that barely a year has passed since the Malian military junta was announced the integration of 26,000 Azawad fighters in their ranks as videos circulated today showing the flags of various Azawad groups being ripped from their poles and trampled on by members of the Malian army.
Although direct confrontations between the FAMA and the CMA have not yet been confirmed (despite rumours), Azawad leaders have already expressed their dissatisfaction with the violation of the law Algiers Agreement signed in 2015 and where the Malian government promised to respect the territorial integrity of Azawad based on the socio-cultural differences of the peoples in the north of the country.
A possible jihadist offensive in Timbuktu, adding to current tensions between Bamako and the CMA, risks escalating violence in the region. Due to the connection to FAME, the Wagner Group takes on a special role in the eyes of Europe. The presence of the mercenary company, the Until this summer, it was limited to the regions of Mopti and Segú (in the center of the country) and around the towns of Ansongo and Menaka (in the east of the country).then expanded to new areas where its presence had not previously been recorded, with its participation in the fighting for the Ber camp near Timbuktu.
The development of the conflict is complex. Azawad’s coordination of movements includes a mix of groups, some linked to al-Qaeda, while others advocate Mali’s territorial unity within certain boundaries and military cooperation with the state to expel jihadists from the country. Although It’s still too early to tell It is already clear how much the relations between the CMA and the FAMA will deteriorate after the capture of Ber and what disastrous consequences the withdrawal of MINUSMA from the north of the country will have for social cohesion and humanitarian issues.