Overview: The transition government, installed following the 2020 coup d’état, undertook another extraconstitutional change in government on May 24, when military forces arrested transition President Bah N’Daw and transition Prime Minister Moctar Ouane. Assimi Goita, who led the 2020 coup and had served as vice president following it, subsequently assumed the transition government presidency.
Mali’s longstanding counterterrorism partnerships with foreign forces in country — particularly France’s Operation Barkhane — experienced increased disruptions throughout 2021. In fall and winter of 2021, French troops withdrew to Gao from bases in Kidal, Tessalit, and Timbuktu. Barkhane handed the bases over to the Malian Armed Forces (FAMa). In a nod to its populist leanings, the transition government ratcheted up anti-France rhetoric in late 2021. In December, the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group deployed to Mali. The security vacuum created by the withdrawal of French and other international forces cannot be filled by Malian forces and Wagner Group forces.
Terrorist activities increased in lethality throughout the country and continued to target civilians, FAMa, international peacekeepers, and international military forces, with 1,826 fatalities recorded by Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project for 2021. Terrorist groups active in Mali include ISIS-GS and JNIM — an AQ-affiliated umbrella group that formed when the Sahara branch of AQIM, al-Murabitoun, Ansar al-Dine, and the Macina Liberation Front merged.
2021 Terrorist Incidents: JNIM and ISIS-GS continued to conduct terrorist attacks, primarily targeting Malian and international military forces. While attacks principally occurred in the central area of Mali, terrorist groups continued to press farther south along the Burkinabe border into the Sikasso Region. Additionally, attacks occurred along Mali’s borders with Côte d’Ivoire and Mauritania, further enveloping Bamako and other population centers:
- On June 25, 13 MINUSMA peacekeepers were seriously injured during the largest suicide-vehicle-borne IED attack in recent memory against a temporary UN base near the village of Ichagara in the Gao region.
- On August 8, Gunmen on motorcycles attacked several villages in a coordinated assault against several villages in the Gao region along the border with Niger, killing more than 50 civilians. A day later, across the country in Dioura, in southern-central Mali, terrorists killed 30 civilians, including 20 Dozo hunters, for refusing to pay religious “taxes.”
- JNIM claimed responsibility for a September 28 complex ambush against an Australian owned gold mining convoy about 100 miles from Bamako. Five Gendarmerie Special Forces soldiers guarding the convoy were killed, and several vehicles were destroyed.
- In December, in the increasingly volatile central Mali area, at least 31 civilians were killed and 17 were wounded after gunmen attacked a bus en route to a market in Bandiagara.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: There were no changes to Mali’s counterterrorism legal framework in 2021. Plans for a massive legal overhaul in 2020 were suspended. Despite the delay of the criminal and procedure codes, 30 terrorism cases went to trial. The COVID-19 outbreak caused significant delays, which were exacerbated by the 2020 coup d’état and the May military consolidation of power.
Mali’s vast and porous borders extend some 4,500 miles and touch seven neighboring countries. The Gendarmerie and the National Border Police both provide security and law enforcement support to prevent and deter criminal activity at borders; however, both agencies are understaffed, are poorly trained, and lack essential equipment and resources. Customs officials under the Ministry of Economy and Finance monitor the flow of goods and enforce customs laws at borders and ports of entry.
Mali receives INTERPOL notices, but the INTERPOL database is unavailable outside of Bamako. Exit and entry stamps used by border officials have inconsistent size and shape, undermining efforts to authenticate travel documents. The government receives Public Key Infrastructure certificates for passport security information from the International Civil Aviation Organization; however, the information sharing is done manually and inconsistently. Security features for Malian passports remain unchanged. Imposters obtain fraudulent documents, such as birth and marriage certificates, with relative ease, undermining the veracity of Malian identification documents.
The transition government has made little progress toward implementation of UN Security Council resolution 2396 regarding border security. Mali previously implemented biometric fingerprint and facial recognition screening at established ports of entry. However, Mali has little or no control over its many and vast territorial borders, allowing terrorists to move across borders with ease.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Mali is a member of the Intergovernmental Action Group Against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA), a financial action task force-style regional body. Mali’s National Financial Intelligence Processing Unit is a member of the Egmont Group. Efforts to counter terrorism financing remain ineffective owing to lack of resources, training, basic auditing tools, and automation.
Countering Violent Extremism: Despite the inclusion of armed group representatives in the transition government, progress on the implementation of the 2015 Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali (the Algiers Accord) remains stymied. The transition government has not yet announced its strategy to combat violent extremism. As the ongoing French withdrawal proceeds, FAMa reports of widespread success against terrorist organizations remain difficult to verify and are likely untrue.
International and Regional Cooperation: Since the May 24 consolidation of military power, Mali has grown increasingly insular, shirking its traditional partners in favor of rebuilding its relationship with Russia. Following the 2020 military coup, U.S. foreign assistance for the Government of Mali has been restricted pursuant to section 7008 of the annual appropriations act. Mali is currently suspended from Economic Community of West African States and the AU.