Terrorism expert Pieter Van Ostaeyen has published a new research paper for the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), covering “10 Conflicts to Worry About in 2022” in the Sahel region, writing:
“Current trends indicate that instability in the central Sahel is persisting, expanding, and escalating, as ACLED outlined earlier this year. 2022 is on track to be the deadliest year for both Burkina Faso and Mali since the Sahel crisis began more than a decade ago. Conflict intensity, as measured by the number of organized political violence events in the first half of 2022, remains highest in Burkina Faso among Sahelian states. Meanwhile, reported fatalities so far in 2022 are highest in Mali, which has been regaining its place as the epicenter of the crisis after being surpassed by Burkina Faso in the count of conflict-related deaths in two of the last three years. Only Niger is faring better in 2022: after experiencing a record year of conflict in 2021, conflict-related deaths are in decline.”
“Several factors are responsible for the increasing violence in the region. Mali’s transitional government, led by the military junta, has allied itself with Wagner mercenaries, whose arrival and offensive alongside Malian government forces has seen attacks against civilians on an unprecedented scale. Malian authorities also severed ties with a longtime ally, France (Al Jazeera, 3 May 2022), which began withdrawing from Mali last year to reshape and relocate its regional counterterrorism mission, Operation ‘Barkhane,’ making neighboring Niger the mission’s central hub. The security void left by France has clearly been exploited by IS Sahel militants, as evidenced by the deadly offensive of unprecedented scale against Tuareg militias and associated communities in northeastern Mali.
Despite the involvement of Malian and Wagner forces, as well as IS Sahel militants, in large-scale attacks on civilians, JNIM remains the most active and deadly actor across the Sahel, particularly in Burkina Faso and Mali. In central Mali, JNIM militants have waged a violent campaign to obstruct the planting season. In doing so, they subjugate the population and force them to disassociate themselves from the state-aligned Dan Na Ambassagou and other Dozo (or Donso), in an effort to undermine their influence. Additionally, since last October when France began its withdrawal from Mali, nearly 50 attacks on the UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSMA) have been attributed to JNIM, including the deaths of 20 peacekeepers. The peacekeeping mission faces growing challenges as Malian authorities seek to deprive it of French air support (Le Monde, 30 June 2022), and impede its freedom of movement and ability to investigate human rights abuses (UN, 13 June 2022).”
“The conflict ecosystem in the Sahel changed significantly in the first six months of 2022 with the arrival of Wagner mercenaries and the withdrawal of French forces from Mali. However, overall dynamics follow the same patterns documented by ACLED in June 2021. JNIM and IS Sahel have continued to conduct offensives against their respective militia rivals in Mali and simultaneous campaigns against state-backed armed groups in Burkina Faso. Increasingly frequent military operations have had only marginal and temporary effects on the security situation at the local level. Rather, the situation continues to deteriorate as government forces withdraw and militant groups retaliate against civilians, blockade major towns, and forcibly displace populations in rural areas, further exacerbating the ongoing humanitarian emergency in the region. The two military-led governments in Burkina Faso and Mali have promised to provide security. However, as the situation continues to evolve, 2022 is currently set to be the worst year since the crisis began.”
Picture: Map of the Sahel (Copyright: By Munion – Natural Earth Data –> ArcMap –> Illustrator & Photoshop, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42808152)