Bottom Line: The French have relaunched offensives in Mali marking the end of a brief patch of peace following elections and the premature issuing of new oil exploration licenses in the country’s restive north.
Analysis: Following renewed attacks in Mali and the withdrawal of Tuareg separatists from an embryonic peace deal, French and UN forces have launched another “anti-insurgent” operation. The operation is primarily focusing on the northeast of the country, in the “Niger Loop”. At the same time, there is a clear uptick in funding efforts on the part of militant groups operating in the Sahel. But also contributing to Mali insurgent financing, most unfortunately, appears to be the collection from the French themselves of a massive 25 million euro ransom for the release of French hostages in Mali. On 30 October, and three years after they were abducted, four French mining engineers returned to Paris. The celebrations were dulled by French intelligence leaks to local media that the four had been released thanks to the French government’s payment of a 25 million euro ransom. The four were taken from French mining facilities in Niger and held in the mountains of the Mali-Algerian border area. The story of the ransom was scooped by France’s Le Monde and Agence France-Presse, both citing French intelligence officials and authorities in Niger, which was involved in the hostage negotiations. The French foreign and defense ministers deny any ransom was paid.
Recommendation: It is unlikely that France will be able to downsize its troops in Mali from 3,000 to 1,200 by the end of this year, as planned. The disintegration of the security situation in Libya will also feed into this and we can expect a sharp uptick in attacks and insurgent movements across the borders of the Sahel between now and the first quarter of 2014. And 25 million euros will go a long way in planning new attacks.