Mali (2012 – first combat deaths)



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 in northern Mali, while more extreme Islamist armed groups fight for implementation of sharia law in the region. At the same time, the government has struggled to regain stability after a military coup in March 2012 that was prompted by discontent over the government’s inability to deal with the insurgency in the north.

When (has the fighting occurred): The Tuareg rebellion began in January 2012, after years of low-intensity conflict, sporadic clashes with security forces, and kidnappings. The March 2012 coup left the government of Mali unstable and security forces divided. After the Tuareg rebels pushed south toward the capital at the end of 2012, Interim President Dioncounda Traoré requested military assistance from France. In January 2013, French troops led a military intervention 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 remained fragile.

In 2014, there were several attempts at peace talks, but fighting broke out again on a number of occasions. In June 2015, rebel factions, several militias, and the government signed a peace accord, “Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali, resulting from the Algiers Process” (also known as the “Algiers accord” or the “Bamako Agreement”), which absolved rebel leaders of their crimes and granted the Tuareg more regional autonomy (Al Jazeera).

Where (has the conflict taken place): Tuareg rebels and their allies have been active in northern Mali, an area they call Azawad. In 2012, the rebels occupied most of the north and captured several cities, including Kidal, Timbuktu, and Gao. Although Islamist rebels took the central city of Konna in late December 2012, French troops came in and retook the occupied region between January and April 2013. In 2014, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) seized control of Kidal city and the towns of Menaka, Agelhok, Anefis, and Tessalit. In the wake of civil unrest, banditry has increased in rural areas in Mali’s central region and new jihadist groups have emerged.

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



2016 The splintering of the main Tuareg rebel alliance in the north endangered the Bamako peace agreement and exacerbated power struggles between Tuareg rebels, jihadist groups, and the central government. Arms continued to spread in central Mali and Fulani herdsmen fought members of the Bambara ethnic group. Al-Qaeda (AQIM) and other jihadist groups benefitted from the decay of the Tuareg rebel alliance. They staged attacks on Malian troops and participated in kidnappings, but also provided basic security in some areas (Reuters). Some elites and local authorities supported community-based, self-defence militias as a way to combat external threats (International Crisis Group). Malian soldiers and local authorities were seen retreating from rural areas in central Mali that were attacked by jihadists groups and armed bandits. This, combined with reports of excessive force by Malian soldiers and police, led to a further decline of the attitude of rural communities toward the central government. To restore public confidence, rights groups suggested that Mali offer more public services and modify its counter-terrorism focus (Human Rights Watch; International Crisis Group).

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: In March 2012, a military coup 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. In June 2015, the government and rebel groups signed the Algiers peace accord. However, peace has been jeopardized by the fragmentation of the Tuareg rebel alliance, surging banditry, and feuds over regional autonomy and resources in the north.

Allied with

2. The Government of France: From the late nineteenth century until 1960, Mali was a colony of France and approximately 6,000 French citizens still live in the country. Responding to the Malian government’s request for help in 2012, France launched military intervention “Operation Serval” on January 11, 2013 to quell the Tuareg and Islamist insurgencies. The intervention in northern Mali was relatively successful. In July 2013, France’s troops handed over security to MINUSMA peacekeepers. France changed its mandate in 2014 to “Operation Barkhane,” a defence pact with Mali that keeps some troops in-country, while deploying others into neighbouring countries as part of an overall anti-terrorist strategy. In 2015, French troops killed two al-Qaeda commanders, Amada Ag Hama and Ibrahim Ag Inawalen, who were implicated in the kidnapping and murder of French nationals in Mali.

3. Pro-government militias: Several groups that support the government have organized into 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 Malian armed forces have  supplied the militias with material resources.

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, General Hajj ag Gamou.


Tuareg rebels: Prior to 2012, Tuareg rebel groups had engaged in sporadic clashes with security forces and kidnapping. After the full-fledged rebellion began in January 2012, new separatist groups formed as demands, goals, and alliances changed. The major Tuareg parties include:

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 this joint delegation in advance of June 2013 negotiations with the Mali government. The High Council attempted to unify Tuareg rebel groups. Since 2013, smaller groups, fusions, and alliances have formed, including:

a. Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA): The MAA is led by secretary general Ahmed Ould Sidi Mohamed, who formed the group in April 2012. Originally known as the National Liberation Front of Azawad, it changed its name in December 2012. In May 2013, French forces removed the MAA from the city of Anefis.

b. Movement of Patriotic Forces of Resistance (RSFF)

c. Republican Movement for Restoration of Azawad (MRRA): Formed on May 19, 2012, the MRRA has Songhai, Fulani, Tuareg, and Arab members. The MRRA’s stated goals are to combat Islamic militants 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 conflict and expressed a desire to establish peace.

7. The so-called “Platform”: This group includes the Coordination des Mouvements et Fronts Patriotiques de Résistance (CMFPR–I), the Groupe d’Autodéfense Touareg Imghad et Alliés (GATIA), and splinter groups of the CPA and the MAA. It is a loose coalition of pro-government Tuareg, but with different local agendas.

Islamist rebels: After temporarily allying themselves with the MNLA, certain Islamist groups have used the Tuareg rebellion to take control of northern Mali and enforce sharia in some cities.

8. Ansar Dine (or Ansar al-Dine, AAD): Formed in 2012, the group’s full Arabic name, Harakat Ansar al-Dine, translates as “movement of defenders of the faith.” ADD members follow Wahhabi/Salafi Islam, unlike most Malian Muslims, who are Sufi. The AAD’s objective is to impose strict sharia law across Mali and the broader region. It is led by Iyad Ag Ghaly, one of the most prominent leaders of the Tuareg Rebellion (1990–1995), who is suspected of having ties to AQIM.

9. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM): AQIM was originally called the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC). In January 2007, the GSPC announced that it was changing its name to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and would continue its 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 have provided their operational funds. In 2012, AQIM harnessed the momentum of the Tuareg insurgency to extend its influence. AQIM turned on the MNLA shortly after the coup and captured the northern cities of Timbukto, Kidal, and Gao. In 2016, AQIM maintained a presence in the Maghreb and Sahel, with multiple cells operating in northern Mali in tandem with local armed groups.

10. Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA): 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 after its 2011 civil war left borders unsecured. In 2012, the UN Security Council sanctioned MUJWA for its al-Qaeda affiliations. MUJWA has used conventional fighting tactics in low-intensity conflict with government security forces, as well as suicide bombings and kidnappings of foreign nationals. Since 2013, it has been led by its founder, Hamada Ould Mohamed Kheirou, from Mauritania.

11. Islamic Movement for Azawad (IMA): Alghabass Ag Intalla, an influential figure in the city of Kidal, formed the 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).

12. Al-Murabitoun: This Sunni jihadist group was formed in 2013 by the merger of Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa and al-Muwaqi’un Bil-Dima. The group is from northern Mali and seeks to impose sharia on the country. It has carried out suicide attacks, planted improvised explosive devices, and conducted raids against civilian targets. It claimed responsibility for the Bamako hotel attack in November 2015. Al-Murabitoun fighters are loyal to Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar. In December 2015, AQIM aligned itself with this group.

13. Macina Liberation Front: Based in the southern town of Macina, this jihadist group 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.

14. National Alliance for the Protection of Peul Identity and the Restoration of Justice (ANSIPRJ): ANSIPRI was formed in June 2016, with the purported aim to defend the ethnic Peul (or Fulani) community. The leader is Omar al-Janah, a 27-year-old former teacher who claims that 700 fighters form part of the organization. On July 19, 2016 the group claimed responsibility for an attack on an army base and town in central Mali. The group has denied Islamist links; however, the attack on the base is seen as likely the work of Islamist groups. Regional analysts doubt that ANSIPRJ has the resources for such an attack.

International Actors:

15. The Governments of Algeria, Mauritania, and Niger: In April 2010, Algeria, Mauritania, Niger, and Mali formed the Joint Military Staff Committee of the Sahel Region (CEMOC), a counterterrorism committee headquartered at Tamanrasset, Algeria. The joint command was created to combat “trans-Sahara terrorism” by coordinating anti-terrorist operations in the Sahara. In 2014-2015, Algeria helped to broker the Algiers peace agreement, which the Government of Mali and Tuareg rebels signed to bring an end to northern violence and award more regional autonomy to Tuareg separatists in the north.

16. African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA): The mission comprised 6,000 troops from Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) members Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, and Togo, as well as non-ECOWAS Chad. The UN Security Council initially authorized AFISMA for a one-year period in Resolution 2085 in December 2012. The mission was set to begin in September 2013, but AFISMA forces were deployed in mid-January that year after the security situation in northern Mali deteriorated and French troops intervened. On July 1, 2013, AFISMA was transformed into UN mission MINUSMA.

17. 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 initially authorized the deployment of 11,200 military personnel and 1,440 international police; the number has since grown to 15,209 total uniformed personnel (MINUSMA), with many ECOWAS countries and Chad contributing troops. The mission officially began July 1, 2013 and has been renewed annually each year since.


Status of Fighting

2016 Chronic low-intensity violence spread from the north to the central region of the country. Banditry and violence grew from local disputes provoked by dissolved CMA factions with no concrete political agenda (International Crisis Group). Radical groups continued to annex vulnerable areas by preying on local distrust and resentment of government. Armed rebel groups and bandits targeted Malian security forces, state officials, and MINUSMA peacekeepers in the north and central regions (Human Rights Watch). Islamist and secular groups – including AQIM, the National Alliance for the protection of Peul Identity and Restoration of Justice (ANSIPRJ), CMA, and Imghad Tuareg – continued to wage the most serious violence (ACLED, Conflict Trend Report No. 55, February 2017, p.7). Islamist armed groups executed 27 men accused of providing information to the government and French counterterrorism forces (Human Rights Watch).

In January, AQIM abducted a Swiss missionary in Timbuktu. In May, violence between armed Tuareg and nomad Fulani herdsmen led to at least 30 fatalities. Fulani militants gathered near Mali’s border with Mauritania, raising concerns about a permanent jihadist presence in the area (International Crisis Group). In July, AQIM and ANSIPRJ attacked a military camp in Nampala, Segou, killing 17 soldiers and wounding 35. From August 5-7, MINUSMA in Northern Kidal was attacked by an unknown armed group, with one killed and six injured. Over the year, more than 62 attacks on MINUSMA and UN personnel killed 25 peacekeepers and 6 civilians (Amnesty International). In December, AQIM kidnapped a French national in Gao (Amnesty International).

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 people died. MINUSMA suffered 49 fatalities.

2016 ACLED reported 288 conflict-related deaths (ACLED, Mail Country File, ACLED Version 7 [1997–2016], standard file). Of the 31 peacekeepers killed, 25 were attached to MINUSMA; there were also five from Chad and one from China (Amnesty International).

Refugees and IDPs: There were 139,795 registered Malian refugees residing in Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Niger at the end of the year. During 2016, 36,690 IDPs and 56,594 refugees returned to their homes in Mali (UNHCR).

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

2016 Although various parties to the conflict planned and convened many meetings to discuss the Bamako peace agreement, little tangible progress was made in its implementation. Delays led Algeria, head of international mediation, to convene an emergency meeting from January 17-18. On January 19, the Malian government made progress in reestablishing a state administration in the north, appointing governors for newly created northern regions Menaka and Taouden. On February 2, hundreds of pro-government militia assembled at rebel stronghold Kidal. Talks with the rebel alliance Coalition of Azawad Movements (CMA) led to a February 6 announcement that they would reduce the number of militia and establish joint city patrols; both sides reaffirmed their commitment to the Bamako peace agreement. From March 4-6, a UN Security Council delegation visited to assess the implementation of the agreement. However, the peace agreement follow-up committee made no tangible progress at their seventh session from March 9-10.

On May 13, hundreds of protesters assembled in Gao to demand that Mali and MINUSMA include more youth in the delayed DDR process. On June 14, Mali, the CMA, and pro-unity armed groups agreed on a new schedule for the appointing of interim authorities – a major step in the Bamako deal – and the restoration of public services in five northern regions. On June 29, the UN Security Council extended MINUSMA’s mandate by one year and increased Mali’s peacekeeper allocation by 2,500 troops. On July 12, security forces fired on Gao youth associations who were demanding inclusion in DDR and protesting the appointment of interim authorities in the north; four youth were killed and 37 injured. Protests broke out in Timbuktu and Bamako. On July 13, the government met youth in Gao to ease tensions. On July 17, ethnic Tuareg and political groups from Kidal signed an agreement on local security and power sharing in Niamey, Niger. However, clashes on July 21 and 22 left as many as 20 dead. On July 30, the Malian parliament extended the national state of emergency until March 2017.

In October, one of the CMA’s military leaders was killed and two Tuareg leaders left the CMA to form a new group, Congress for Justice in Azawad. As part of the peace deal and anti-insurgent Operation Barkhane, French soldiers accompanied Mali’s first joint road patrol on October 5-6 with the Malian armed forces, MINUSMA, and the Platform of armed groups. On November 10, the main CMA splinter groups rejected the CMA’s proposed list of transitional authorities for northern Mali. The CMA criticized the government’s decision to hold local elections on November 20, before transitional authorities were in place. Elections were marred by the CMA boycott, low voter turnout, and violence, including attacks on security forces protecting ballot boxes, five of whom were reportedly killed. Disagreements and continued clashes prevented a second joint patrol planned for December 10 in Gao and Kidal. On December 19, the CMA’s president threatened to suspend CMA participation in the Algiers peace process and called on Algeria to convene a high-level meeting to “save the accord.” Bandits and jihadists continued to attack security forces, and a French-Swiss aid worker was kidnapped in Gao on December 24 (International Crisis Group).

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.


Tuareg separatist aspirations can be linked to significant cultural differences between northern and southern Mali. The Tuareg of northern Mali attempted to separate on several occasions, staging uprisings in the 1960s and 1990s.

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. In 1992, the first multiparty elections were held and Alpha Konaré became the first democratically-elected president. In 2002, Konaré was succeeded by Amadou Toumani Touré; Touré was re-elected in April 2007. In August of that year, Tuareg rebels abducted several soldiers and in 2008 attacked military bases in the north. In 2009, 700 Tuareg fighters surrendered their weapons to the government.

In 2011, violence in northern Mali worsened; 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. AQIM, MUJAO, and Ansar al-Dine initially supported the 2012 Tuareg rebellion (Al Jazeera), but eventually turned on Tuareg forces to take control of the north. In 2015, the government, pro-government forces, and Tuareg rebel groups signed a peace agreement.


Arms Sources

For many years, Islamist groups operating in the Sahel have kidnapped Westerners to raise money. Some groups also traffic drugs, weapons, and people. Most of the money raised is used to buy weapons on the black market, particularly from dealers in Chad and Russia. Rebels have also captured weapons and equipment from successful offensives against Malian forces. Most rebel weaponry was brought back to Mali by Tuareg fighters who fought for Gadhafi in the 2011 Libyan civil war. Even before the Gadhafi regime, the primary route for shipping weapons from Libya was the Salvador Pass, an area along the Algerian and Nigerian border; the route was used as recently as 2015. Mali’s porous northern border allowed weapons to flow easily from neighbouring countries.

The following weapons were confirmed as part of the MNLA’s 2012-2013 arsenal (Small Arms Survey):

  • 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 also held man-portable air defence systems, namely 9K32 Strela-2 and 2M systems, of which 13 were seized. Some rebel weapons originated from Libya. IEDs have caused significant damage in the Malian conflict, killing security forces, peacekeepers, and civilians (Small Arms Survey).

Mali signed the Arms Trade Treaty in June 2013 and ratified it on December 6. 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). In 2016, Mali imported an ACMAT APC armored vehicle (SIPRI) and a C-295W aircraft from Air Bus Defense and Space (Military Balance 2017). In 2016, Mali’s defence budget increased by 17 per cent to $549-million (The Military Balance).

A 2016 report by Conflict Armament Research (CAR), a UK organization that tracks armament transfers, indicated that weapons from Libyan stockpiles were key to the Tuareg and Islamist insurgencies in 2012 (Council on Foreign Relations). The report also notes that Belgian-manufactured ammunition was found in Mali in 2013 and 2015 and is likely to have been smuggled in from Libya. The Belgian manufacturer had export licences for the ammunition to Libya in the late 1970s and early 1980s similar to what was found in Mali, although the batch numbers did not match exactly those found by CAR.

Economic context                 

Mali is among the 10 poorest countries in the world, and its trade deficit makes it heavily dependent on imports and foreign aid.

Mali’s economy is largely based on agriculture. Rice is grown extensively along the banks of the Niger River between Segou and Mopti. The Niger River is Mali’s primary source of fish; however, severe droughts and agricultural water demands have limited fish production in recent decades. Sheep, goats, and camels are raised north of Bamako, in Segou and in the Niger Delta; however, herding is slowly shifting more to the south.

Gold is extracted in the southern region and is one of Mali’s top exports. Attractive foreign investment regulations, operating licences, and certificates have bolstered government revenues from mining contracts.



map: CIA Factbook

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