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Armed men riding motorcycles shot and killed two Red Cross workers in western Mali recently, according to the international humanitarian organization. Their killers were not identified. Still, for the past decade, Islamist militants with ties to Al Qaeda and also Islamic State have been expanding their operations in the West African country as well as in nearby Burkina Faso and Niger.
On the day before that attack, terrorists killed a UN peacekeeper and three others traveling in a convoy in northern Mali, reported France 24. The peacekeeper was one of 13,000 soldiers who are participating in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
Established in 2013, the UN’s mission is supposed to prevent jihadists from terrorizing Malians and others in the Sahel region. But UN observers have also noticed that the Malian government can instill fear in the population, too. As Agence France-Presse wrote, the UN recently issued a report noting a surge in deaths due to government forces. Reuters said the violence showed how the military junta running the country was losing its grip on power.
The escalation comes after a turn in the landlocked country’s more-than-10-year-long battle against a jihadist insurgency. In 2020, a junta overthrew President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, established closer ties with Russia and distanced the country from France, its former colonial power. France withdrew a large contingent of troops from the country earlier this year, citing differences with the coup leaders.
Coinciding with the uptick in government-sponsored violence was a new partnership between Malian forces under Interim President Assini Goïta and mercenaries from the Wagner group, a Russian military contractor. A New York Times investigation described massacres with “Russian fingerprints” that have become more frequent in Mali since Wagner arrived.
Wagner has been called a “proxy” for the Russian government, leading the Middle East Monitor to claim that Mali is now a front in the conflict that has arisen between Russia and Europe due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Malian authorities recently arrested an army officer, saying he was seeking to foment a Western-backed coup that would put the country back into France’s orbit, Voice of America reported.
The junta has also pulled out of the G5 Sahel Force, a multinational alliance to counter jihadist movements that includes Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania and Niger, Al Jazeera added. At the same time, Critical Threats, an outlet tied to the American Enterprise Institute, warned that the Malian military’s human rights abuses will likely strengthen those terrorist groups.
Optimists might be hard-pressed to keep a hopeful outlook when it comes to Mali these days.