2012 Mali Civil War

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The Mali conflict began in January 2012 when an insurgency by Tuareg rebels took over large swathes of the country's northern territory. In 2013, French forces intervened to assist the Malian government, pushing the rebels out of major cities. This conflict has continued in various forms, with jihadist groups and ethnic militias contributing to the instability..

The Mali Conflict, which began in January 2012, is a complex and multifaceted struggle involving various ethnic groups, Islamist militants, the Malian government, and international forces. It has its roots in long-standing grievances among northern Mali's Tuareg population, who have sought autonomy for decades, feeling marginalized by the central government in Bamako.

The immediate catalyst for the conflict was the return of Tuareg fighters from Libya after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. These fighters had been part of Gaddafi's security forces and returned to Mali heavily armed and battle-hardened. In January 2012, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), bolstered by these returnees, launched an offensive against the Malian army. They aimed to establish an independent state in northern Mali, which they called Azawad.

The Malian government's inability to quell the rebellion led to political instability, culminating in a military coup in March 2012. The coup, led by Captain Amadou Sanogo, deposed President Amadou Toumani Touré and further destabilized the country, allowing the MNLA and various Islamist groups, including Ansar Dine, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), to take control of northern cities such as Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal.

The MNLA initially declared the independence of Azawad. However, the situation complicated as the Islamist groups, with a different agenda focused on the implementation of Sharia law, quickly sidelined the MNLA and took control of the territory themselves.

The Islamist advance towards the Malian capital of Bamako in early 2013 prompted the intervention of French military forces, at the request of the Malian government. Operation Serval, launched in January 2013, rapidly drove the jihadist groups from the main cities into the desert and mountainous hideouts.

Despite the initial success of Operation Serval, which was succeeded by Operation Barkhane, a wider counter-terrorism operation in the Sahel region, and the deployment of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), the conflict persisted. Islamist groups continued to carry out guerrilla attacks, suicide bombings, and targeted killings.

Peace Agreements and Continuing Violence A peace agreement was signed in 2015 between the government and some of the armed groups, which included promises of greater autonomy for the north and the integration of rebel fighters into the Malian army. However, the implementation of the agreement has been slow, and key signatories, including some factions of the Tuareg rebels, remain outside the peace process.

Despite the presence of international forces, the security situation has deteriorated, with violence spreading to central Mali and neighboring countries, further complicating regional stability. Ethnic militias have also become prominent, often leading to violent confrontations and revenge killings among different communities.

Recent Developments The conflict, interlaced with political instability, saw another coup in August 2020, followed by a second one in May 2021, leading to sanctions from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and concerns about the transitional government's commitment to holding elections.

In summary, the Mali Conflict is a manifestation of regional, ethnic, and political disputes aggravated by external influences and global jihadist movements. The presence of international forces and UN peacekeepers, along with a fragile peace agreement, has failed to establish lasting stability. Mali's future hinges on the ability of its government, possibly with continued international support, to address the complex web of local and external issues fueling this conflict.