Mali (2012 – first combat deaths)

Tasneem Jamal Africa

Updated: June 2015


The Conflict at a Glance

Who (are the main combatants): The government of Mali, supported by France, against Tuareg rebels, mainly the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and multiple Islamist rebel groups, including Ansar Dine, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA). The MNLA has also repeatedly battled over territory with Ansar Dine, AQIM and MUJWA. Ethnic tensions in the north and south have been exacerbated by rebel conflict.

What (started the conflict): The Tuareg rebels are fighting for autonomy for northern Mali, while more extreme Islamist armed groups fight for implementation of Sharia in the region. At the same time, the government of Mali struggles to regain stability after a military coup in March 2012, which was provoked by concerns over the government’s capacity to deal with the insurgency in the north.

When (has the fighting occurred): A military coup in March 2012 left the government of Mali unstable and security forces divided. After the Tuareg rebels pushed south toward the capital at the end of 2012, the Mali government requested help from France. French troops led a military intervention in January 2013 that retook the rebel-held cities. In June, the government signed a peace deal with Tuareg rebels, but fighting resumed in September and the situation remains fragile. In 2014, there were several attempts at peace talks, but fighting broke out again on a number of occasions; by early April 2015 a full agreement had not been reached.

Where (has the conflict taken place): The Tuareg rebels and their allies have been active in northern Mali, an area they call Azawad. During 2012, the rebels occupied most of the north and captured the cities of Kidal, Timbuktu and Gao, among others. When Islamist rebels took the central city of Konna in late December 2012, Malian Interim President Dioncounda Traoré asked France for military assistance. The rebel-occupied region was retaken by French troops between January and April 2013.

Type of Conflict
Parties to the Conflict
Status of the Fighting
Number of Deaths
Political Developments
Arms Sources



2015  On June 20 the Coordination of Movement of Azawad (CMA), pro-government forces, and the government signed a peace agreement. Significant progress toward peace was then made, although the CMA withdrew from the peace process for a month when pro-government forces occupied the northern Malian town of Anéfis. Jihadi groups continued to pose a security threat. While most attacks were relatively small, a November attack on a hotel in Mali left at least 19 people dead (New York Times). UN peacekeepers remained in the country.

2014 There was low-level violence, with some escalation in May. Peace talks were held on several occasions, with little success; the sides disagree on the appropriateness of a federal solution. The French mandate shifted from a Mali-centric mission to one covering the wider Sahel region, reducing the number of French troops in Mali. Human rights groups continued to condemn human rights violations. While President Keita remained in power, there were changes of Prime Minister and cabinet, with Mara becoming Prime Minister in May and resigning in early January 2015. The IMF cut aid funding to Mali in May, citing concerns about the country’s money management, but reinstated it in December.

2013 Following a major push south by Islamist rebels, President Traoré requested military help from France. “Operation Serval” began on January 11 with heavy airstrikes and at least 3,000 ground troops; rebel strongholds were quickly retaken. More than 400 people had been killed by the end of February. Human rights groups expressed concern over serious human rights violations by all sides. Fighting also continued between soldiers loyal to March 2012 coup leader Captain Sanogo and those loyal to ousted President Toure. French troops began to withdraw in April; while fighting decreased, communal and ethnic tensions remained high. On July 1, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) took over from the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA), with more than 11,000 military personnel. Summer elections saw relatively little violence, and Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was elected the new president. A preliminary peace agreement was signed in June, but the MNLA backed out in November after clashes between Tuaregs and security forces. Fighting continued into December. Since the escalation of violence in January 2012, an estimated 1,500 to 3,524 people have been killed.

2012 Fighting resumed in northern Mali between Tuareg rebels and security forces early in the year. Nearly 100 soldiers were executed by the MNLA. In the south, concerns over the government’s capacity to deal with the Tuareg rebellion led to a military coup in March. President Toure was overthrown and Captain Sanogo temporarily led the military junta. A month later, power was transferred to Parliament Speaker Traoré as Interim President. Fighting continued between the now divided military. The MNLA and Islamist rebel groups captured northern cities with little difficulty, but quickly began competing for territory and influence. By mid-July, Ansar Dine, AQIM and MUJWA had ousted the MNLA Tuaregs and were in control of the north. President Traoré formally requested ECOWAS military intervention in September, despite widespread debate, and the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) was authorized by the UN in December.

Type of Conflict

State Control

Parties to the Conflict

1. The Government of Mali: A military coup in March 2012 ousted then President Amadou Toumani Toure. Captain Amadou Sanogo was named head of the military junta, but the army’s loyalty remained severely divided. In April, power was transferred to a civilian government led by Interim President Dioncounda Traoré. When rebel group Ansar Dine attacked a central town near the capital in January 2013, Traoré appealed to former colonial power France for military help. A ceasefire in June allowed elections to take place over the summer, and Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was elected president. In the aftermath of the French intervention, Keita stated his commitment to national reconciliation and vowed to strengthen security forces, integrate the Tuareg and other minorities, and maintain territorial integrity.

Allied with

2. France: From the late nineteenth century until 1960, Mali was a colony of France; approximately 6,000 French citizens still live there. Responding to requests for help from the Malian government in 2012, France launched military intervention “Operation Serval” on January 11, 2013 to quell Tuareg and Islamist insurgencies in northern Mali. This intervention was relatively successful, and France changed its mandate in 2014 to “Operation Barkhane,” which keeps some troops in Mali, but also stations forces in other countries in the region as part of a coordinated anti-terrorist campaign.

3. Pro-government militias: Several groups that support the government are organized as self-defence militias, including the Ganda Koy, Ganda Izo, and the Forces de libération du Nord (FLN). According to the UN, there have been claims that the militias have been supplied with material resources by Malian armed forces.

a. Tuareg Imghad and Allies Self-Defence Group (GATIA): This self-defence group consists of pro-government Tuareg and Arab communities from the north. It is led by the Tuareg representative on Mali’s general staff, Gen. Hajj ag Gamou.


The Ethnic Rebels: The Tuareg rebellion began in January 2012 after years of low-intensity conflict, sporadic clashes with security forces, and kidnappings. More separatist groups formed in 2012 and 2013 as demands, goals, and alliances changed.

4. Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA): The CMA is a coalition of five main rebel groups: the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA), the Coordination of Movements and Patriotic Fronts of the Resistance II (CMFPR-II), and a faction of the Coalition of the People of Azawad (CPA). The CMA was a key negotiating agent in 2015 peace talks with the government and pro-government forces.

5. National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA or NMLA) Tuareg activists formed MNLA in 2011 after their leader, Ibrahim ag Bahanga, was killed. This coalition fights for the rights of Mali’s minority Tuareg population and seeks independence for northern Mali, which it calls Azawad. MNLA ranks swelled after Gadhafi’s overthrow in Libya in 2011, when fighters returned to Mali. Since the French military intervention in January 2013, the MNLA has modified its demand for independence, seeking instead a “Quebec-style autonomy.”

6. The High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA): Mohamed Ag Intallah formed a joint delegation in an attempt to unify the Tuareg rebel groups in advance of June 2013 negotiations with the Mali government. Since 2013, smaller groups, fusions, and alliances have formed:

a. Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA): It began in April 2012 as the National Liberation Front of Azawad and in December changed its name; its leader is Ahmed Ould Sidi Mohamed. The group was reportedly removed from the city of Anefis in mid-May 2013 by French forces.

b. Movement of Patriotic Forces of Resistance (RSFF).

c. Republican Movement for Restoration of Azawad (MRRA): Begun on May 19, 2012, its members are Songhai, Fulani, Tuareg, and Arab. Its stated goals are to combat Islamic armed groups in northern Mali and gain political autonomy for Azawad.

d. Popular Movement for the Salvation of Azawad (MPSA): This group splintered from the MAA in August 2014. It has recognized the agreements signed by parties to the Mali conflict and expressed a desire to establish peace.

The Islamist Rebels: Temporarily allied with MNLA, groups used the occasion of the Tuareg rebellion to take control of northern Mali and enforce sharia law in some cities.

7. Ansar Dine (or Ansar al-Dine, AAD): Led by Iyad Ag Ghaly. Its full Arabic name, Harakat Ansar al-Dine, translates as “movement of defenders of the faith.” Ansar Dine follows Wahhabi/Salafi Islam, while most Malian Muslims are Sufis. The group’s objective is to impose sharia law across Mali and the region.

8. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM): Formerly known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat, GSPC). In January 2007, the GSPC announced that it was changing its name to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and would continue involvement in an international “holy war” as part of the al-Qaeda network. The group has its roots in the Algerian civil war of the early 1990s, but has since taken on a more Islamist agenda. Although a number of factions have split from AQIM, it remains the largest rebel group in northern Africa, carrying out kidnappings and bombing campaigns. In 2010, AQIM became more closely associated with the international drug trade, providing armed security for drug smugglers in the Sahara. Kidnapping for ransom and drug smuggling provide operational funds.

9. Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA or MUJAO): MUJWA split from AQIM in mid-2011 to spread jihad across a broader region of West Africa, but has been active mainly in southern Algeria and northern Mali. The region was flooded with illegal weapons and ammunition from Libya in the aftermath of the 2011 civil war that left Libyan borders unsecured. Formally sanctioned in 2012 by the UN Security Council for its al-Qaeda affiliations, MUJWA employs suicide bombings, kidnappings of foreign nationals, and conventional fighting tactics in low-intensity conflict with government security forces. In 2013, it was reportedly led by a Mauritanian, Hamada Ould Mohamed Kheirou.

10. Islamic Movement for Azawad (IMA): Alghabass Ag Intalla, an influential figure in the city of Kidal, formed IMA in January 2013. Intalla left Ansar Dine because he opposed “terrorism” and favoured dialogue. IMA dissolved on May 19, 2013 and Intalla joined his brother, Mohamed Ag Intallah, on the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA).

11. al-Murabitoun: This Sunni jihadi group from northern Mali formed in 2013 with the merger of Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa and Al-Muwaqi’un Bil-Dima. The organization, which seeks to impose Sharia law on Mali, has been known to carry out suicide attacks, plant improvised explosive devices, and conduct raids against civilian targets. The group claimed responsibility for the November 2015 attack on a hotel in Bamako. The fighters are loyal to Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar. In December 2015, AQIM aligned itself with al-Murabitoun.

12. Macina Liberation Front: This jihadi group, based in the southern Malian town of Macina, came to prominence in 2015. Under the leadership of extremist preacher Amadou Koufa, it seeks to revive the 19th-century Macina Empire, a Fulani-led Islamist state based in the Mopti and Segou regions of Mali.

International Actors:

13. Algeria, Mauritania, Niger: In 2010, Mali joined with Algeria, Mauritania and Niger to form the Comité d’État-major Opérationnel Conjoint (CEMOC or the Joint Military Staff Committee of the Sahel Region), a joint counterterrorism committee headquartered at Tamanrasset, Algeria. The joint command headquarters, which opened April 21, 2010, was created to combat “trans-Sahara terrorism” by coordinating anti-terrorist operations in the Sahara.

14. African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA): In December 2012, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2085, which authorized AFISMA for an initial period of one year. The mission was to begin in September 2013, but when the security situation in northern Mali deteriorated and French troops intervened, AFISMA forces were deployed early, in mid-January. The mission comprised 6,000 troops from member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) including Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo, as well as non-ECOWAS Chad. AFISMA was transformed into UN mission MINUSMA on July 1, 2013.

15. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA): On April 26, 2013, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2100, authorizing the creation of MINUSMA to take over from AFISMA. The Resolution authorized deployment of 11,200 military personnel and 1,440 international police; many ECOWAS countries and Chad contributed troops. The mission officially began July 1, 2013 and is currently authorized until June 30, 2015.

Status of Fighting

2015 Low-intensity violence continued. According to ACLED, violence spiked in January, April, and May (ACLED, Conflict Trends Report No. 39 July 2015, p. 3), with most attacks on government forces and peacekeepers. Patrols on Mali’s network of roads were the target of rebel mines, improvised explosive devices, and ambushes. UN peacekeepers enforced a 20-km buffer zone around Ménaka in Gao. Pro-government forces left the buffer zone before a peace agreement was signed on June 20. ACLED indicated that violence then declined in June (ACLED, Conflict Trends Report No. 39 July 2015, p. 3). Despite progress toward peace, jihadi groups remained active in Mali. On November 20, two gunmen attacked a hotel in Bamako, taking 170 people hostage (International Crisis Group). The New York Times reported that at least 19 hostages were killed (New York Times). Al-Murabitoun and Macina Liberation Front each claimed responsibility.     

2014 While violence decreased, many low-intensity incidents took place, including landmine and rocket attacks. After some French troops left Mali in May, violence escalated. On May 24, after a series of attacks during the Prime Minister’s visit to Kidal, a ceasefire agreement was reached. Malian troops pulled out of Kidal region the same month, after heavy fighting. The ceasefire held for most of June, but fighting broke out again in July; a new ceasefire was signed on July 24, although some violence persisted. Several rounds of peace talks were attempted this year. Talks in February led to a nonspecific cantonment agreement. MINUSMA and the national reconciliation ministry led workshops, which a number of rebel groups declined to attend. The government held negotiations with some groups in July, peace talks in September, October, and from November 20 to December 1, with no agreement. The talks resumed in  2015. Twenty-six peacekeepers were killed in 2014; UN peacekeeping chief Hervé Ladsous stated in October that the situation in Mali was no longer a “peacekeeping environment.” At the same time, the head of MINUSMA stated in August that the withdrawal of French and Malian troops led to the concentration of attacks on peacekeeping forces.

2013 Following the capture of the city of Konna in a major push south by Islamist rebels, President Traoré requested military assistance from France. On January 11, France began “Operation Serval” with heavy air strikes on Konna and Diabaly, and later pushed north. By the end of January, French and supporting Chadian troops had retaken Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal. At least 400 people had been killed by the end of February. Heavy fighting continued into late April with more than 3,000 French ground troops attempting to take control of rebel strongholds. Rebels fought back with suicide and car bombs, landmines and attacks on cities. There were reports of human rights abuses by Malian security forces, Islamist groups and Tuareg rebels. Infighting among security forces continued in February and October, leaving at least seven dead and more than a dozen injured. Fighting decreased by May and diplomatic efforts resumed. A preliminary peace agreement was signed in June, but communal and ethnic tensions remained high. Summer elections saw relatively little violence, but suicide and grenade attacks in September, October and December killed a dozen people, including five MINUSMA peacekeepers. In late November, the MNLA announced an end to a five-month ceasefire with the resumption of clashes between Tuareg protestors and security forces. Fighting between French/Malian security forces and rebels resumed in December, with more than 30 killed.

2012 Attacks on towns in northern Mali began in January 2012; approximately 95 government soldiers were captured and executed by MNLA and AQIM. Tens of thousands of civilians fled the fighting. MNLA Tuareg rebels continued to attack northern towns, including Gao and Timbuktu, with the help of MUJWA and Ansar Dine. Mauritanian and Algerian security forces led airstrikes against AQIM convoys, but Malian troops were repeatedly beaten back in clashes with rebels. A military coup in March and a countercoup in April left several dead. Nationwide tensions also fueled ethnic disputes over land and grazing rights along the Burkina Faso border, leaving at least 25 dead in May. MNLA fighters clashed with Ansar Dine following the failure of negotiations in June. By mid-July, Islamist rebel groups had ousted MNLA Tuaregs and were in control of the north. The security situation continued to deteriorate as Ansar Dine began enforcing sharia law and destroyed Sufi shrines near Gao. Following further discussion of international intervention in October, MUJWA vowed to take the capital city Bamako within 24 hours if foreign forces were deployed. Clashes between rebel groups continued until the end of the year, culminating in a push south by Ansar Dine and AQIM.

Number of Dead and Displaced

Total: Between the escalation of violence in January 2012 and the end of 2014, an estimated 1,689 to 3,713 died. MINUSMA suffered 49 fatalities.

2015 ACLED reported 411 conflict fatalities (ACLED, All Africa Files, ACLED Version 6 (1997-2015) standard file). International Crisis Group reported 160 dead, including at least 28 peacekeepers, 33 soldiers, 27 militants, and 13 civilians (International Crisis Group).

UNHCR indicated that 146,667 refugees, 10,919 asylum seekers, and 90,218 internally displaced people had originated from Mali by June 2015 (UNHCR).

2014 International Crisis Group reported at least 189 deaths and more than 121 wounded. The dead included 26 peacekeepers, 14 soldiers, 34 civilians, nine hostages, and more than 100 militants.

Refugees and IDPs: In July 2014, the UN Refugee Agency reported 147, 685 Malian refugees, 9,673 asylum seekers, and 128, 866 internally displaced persons. While numbers are declining, increased violence in May 2014 delayed some refugee returns.

2013 According to the International Crisis Group, at least 496 people were killed in 2013. Among the dead were 116 soldiers (including French, Chadian and Senegalese), 42 civilians and 338 militants. Other reports state that nearly 700 rebels and soldiers had been killed by the end of March 2013. ICG also reported 265 deaths in 2012, including 122 soldiers and government officials, 47 civilians, and 99 militants.

Refugees: By January 14, 2012, more than 475,000 people had been displaced, about 175,000 to neighbouring countries. As of mid-2013, the UN Refugee Agency estimated that there were 182,780 Malian refugees, 3,111 asylum seekers, and 353,455 internally displaced persons; by February 2014 the number of IDPs had declined to 200,000.

Political Developments

2015 On January 8, Prime Minister Moussa Mara resigned. He was replaced by former prime minister Modibo Keita, the high representative for Inter-Malian Inclusive Dialogue peace talks. The fifth round of these dialogues began on February 16. On March 1, the government and the Coordination of Movement of Azawad (CMA) reached a preliminary peace deal. However, after consulting with its members, the CMA refused to sign the deal, but expressed willingness to continue further talks. On May 14, the CMA and the government did agree to a peace accord. On June 20, the CMA signed a peace agreement along with the government and armed rebel groups. The following month a Committee of Agreement (CSA) was established, but little progress was made as parties failed to agree on key points. 

In August, the CMA withdrew from the peace accord negotiation process after pro-government forces seized Anéfis. The CMA returned to the negotiating table in September, following the withdrawal of pro-government forces in response to international pressure. The government cancelled regional and municipal elections because of instability in the north. On October 11, Ifoghas and Imghad tribal leaders in the Anéfis region reached a peace agreement to end local communal conflict after consultation with the CMA, pro-government forces, and the government. Similar agreements were signed by other communities in the following days. In November, the CSA announced the formation of mixed patrols to operate in the north and progress in establishing a site for a disarmament process.

2014 The French mandate changed. In July the French military mission in Mali ended and a broader anti-terrorism effort in the Sahel known as Operation Barkhane began, with 3,000 French troops. This reduction of French forces left the UN peacekeeping mission more exposed. The mission was criticized for having insufficient troops in the north, the most unstable part of the country; MINUSMA stated that 80 per cent of UN forces were in this area. On June 25 the United Nations Security Council extended MINUSMA’s mandate until June 2015, requesting an expanded presence in the North.

President Keita remained in power despite criticism that the government had failed to effectively manage the conflict. On April 6 Moussa Mara became prime minister and formed a new cabinet. The government’s use of aid money, including the purchase of a new plane and allegedly irresponsible military spending, led the IMF to cut funding in May; IMF funding was reinstated in December. Mara resigned in early January 2015; Keita appointed a new prime minister and government.

2013 In January, Islamist rebels captured the central city of Konna and announced plans to march on the capital of Bamako. In response to requests for help from President Traoré, France began a military intervention on January 11. French President Hollande visited Mali in early February and said “terrorism” had been pushed back, but not yet defeated. Targeting operations continued in March and France began to withdraw troops in April. On March 6, the Malian government announced the creation of a Dialogue and Reconciliation Commission. In April, the UN authorized the creation of the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) to succeed AFISMA on July 1. A preliminary peace agreement was signed between the government and MNLA/HCUA rebels in June. Presidential elections were held over the summer without major incidents, and Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was declared the winner; he named a new prime minister and cabinet in September. After fighting resumed in late-September, France, MINUSMA and the Malian army launched joint military operation “Hydre” to prevent a revival of the rebellion. The political situation in the capital remained tense, with continued clashes among security members. In November, MNLA ended the five-month ceasefire. Despite some violence, legislative elections were held in December 2013, with the majority of elected legislators supporting the president.

2012 Security in northern Mali began to deteriorate in January 2012 after rebel groups captured and executed nearly 100 government soldiers. Sparked by concerns over the government’s ability to deal with the northern insurgency, military officers overthrew President Amadou Toumani Toure in a March coup d’état just ahead of April elections. Captain Amadou Sanogo was named head of the new military junta. A month later, soldiers loyal to Toure attempted a countercoup, but power was transferred to Parliament Speaker Dioncounda Traoré. Tensions continued between soldiers loyal to Toure (known by their red berets) and those loyal to Sanogo (green berets). Fuelled by an influx of arms from the 2011 Libyan civil war, Tuareg rebels seized control of northern Mali and declared independence in April. Interim President Traoré threatened to launch “total war” against the Tuareg rebels and Islamist militias in the north. In May and June, the MNLA attempted negotiations with Ansar Dine to establish an Azawad Republic, but they refused. Over the summer, Ansar Dine allied with AQIM against the MNLA and captured the regional capitals of Kidal, Timbuktu and Gao, destroying many Sufi shrines and enforcing sharia law. In September, President Traoré formally requested ECOWAS military intervention to reclaim the north from the rebels and secure transitional government institutions. In October, thousands of Malian citizens demonstrated for and against intervention; the international community was also divided on the subject. Diplomatic efforts to solve the crisis continued. In November, ECOWAS agreed to deploy 3,300 troops to the north and the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) was authorized by the UN Security Council in late December.


In 1960, Mali gained independence from France as a one-party socialist state. In the decades that followed, Mali suffered droughts, rebellions, a 1968 coup and a 23-year military dictatorship under Lieutenant Moussa Traoré. The first multiparty elections were held in 1992, when Alpha Konaré became the first democratically elected president. Konaré was succeeded in 2002 by Amadou Toumani Touré; Touré was re-elected in April 2007.

The Tuareg of northern Mali have attempted to separate on several occasions, staging uprisings in the 1960s and 1990s. Tuareg separatist aspirations can be linked to significant cultural differences between northern and southern Mali. Tuareg rebel activity revved up in August 2007, when several soldiers were abducted. In 2008 there were attacks on military bases in northern Mali. In 2009, 700 Tuareg fighters surrendered their weapons to the government.

In 2010 Mali joined with Algeria, Mauritania, and Niger to form the Comité d’État-Major Opérationnel Conjoint (CEMOC or the Joint Military Staff Committee of the Sahel Region), an organization headquartered at Tamanrasset, Algeria.

The situation in northern Mali worsened in 2011; incidents of kidnapping increased and Malian forces clashed with rebel groups. Concerns about a possible Tuareg rebellion rose as hundreds of heavily armed fighters returned from the Libyan civil war. Algerian Islamist rebel groups in Mali affiliated themselves with local Tuareg Islamists. In 2012 AQIM, MUJAO, and Ansar al-Dine supported the Tuareg rebellion. During the conflict, these groups suppressed Tuareg forces and sought to take control of the north. In 2015 a peace agreement was signed by the government, pro-government forces, and Tuareg rebel groups.

Arms Sources

Islamist groups operating in the Sahel have long been known to kidnap Westerners to raise money. Some groups also engage in trafficking drugs, weapons, and people. Most of the money raised is used to buy weapons on the black market and from dealers in Chad and Russia. Rebels also capture weapons and equipment from retreating Malian forces. However, most of the weapons held by rebels were brought back to Mali by Tuaregs who fought for Gadhafi in the Libyan civil war in 2011. Mali’s porous northern border allowed weapons to flow easily from neighbouring countries.

According to Small Arms Survey, the following weapons were confirmed as part of the MNLA rebel arsenal during 2012-2013:

  • Various Kalashnikov-pattern assault rifles, manufactured in Russia, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia/Yugoslavia, and China
  • 51 mm rifles, 39 mm light machine guns, 54R mm sniper rifles, 54R mm general-purpose machine guns (extensive appearance of these weapons in film footage), 108 mm heavy machine guns
  • MAT-49 submachine gun, manufactured in France from late 1940s to late 1970s
  • RPG-7 rocket launchers, multiple rocket launchers, and rockets
  • Mortars and mortar bombs
  • F1-pattern fragmentation grenades, manufactured by the Soviet Union
  • HEAT projectiles, manufactured in Belgium in the 1970s
  • Single- and twin-barrel cannons
  • Howitzers
  • Armoured personnel carriers.

Small Arms Survey also reported that the MNLA and Islamist groups possessed “man-portable air defence systems,” namely 9K32 Strela-2 and 2M systems. Thirteen have been seized from militants. The report maintained that some weapons originated from Libya.

Small Arms Survey noted that IEDs have caused significant damage in the Malian conflict, killing security forces, peacekeepers, and civilians.

In June 2013 Mali signed the Arms Trade Treaty and ratified it on December 6.

The Military Balance indicated that the Malian government’s defence budget increased from $355-million in 2014 to $469-million in 2015 (The Military Balance, Vol. 116, 455). Mali took delivery of light aircraft from Brazil in 2015 (The Military Balance, Vol 116, 479).


map: CIA Factbook

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