TUNIS -- The "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" in the Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS) is continuing its efforts to expand in Mali, where it seeks to establish a base from which to carry out its operations and attacks, Sahel security experts said.
The extremist group is moving ahead with its expansionist agenda, seizing control of several areas in Mali despite the efforts being made to combat it, which are insufficient without international support and cohesion, they said.
The security situation has deteriorated in the Sahel region of western and north-central Africa, especially in Mali, since the withdrawal of French forces, and residents fear a return to square one of the violence.
Russian policies and actions in the Sahel region of western and north-central Africa, which include the presence of Wagner Group mercenaries, have also made the security situation in the region worse.
The situation in Mali has become "significantly worse" as a direct result of the ruling junta's choices, including its decision to partner with the Wagner Group, a senior US official said October 26.
Mali's ruling junta, which seized power in 2020, has turned away from its traditional ally France and become closer to Russia in its fight against a decade-long extremist insurgency.
ISIS and other extremist groups are continuing their incursions into the region, especially in Gao and other regions in northern Mali.
General attempts to rally youth
Malian army Gen. El Hajj Ag Gamou, a prominent figure in the fight against ISIS-GS, recently called on all Tuareg youth in Algeria, Libya and elsewhere to assemble in the Gao area.
Gao, the largest city in northern Mali, is witnessing acts of extremist violence, with ISIS-GS affiliates massacring hundreds of people in the country's northeast this year, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Tens of thousands of villagers from the Menaka and Gao regions have fled their homes after losing their livestock and belongings in attacks since March, it said, with the abuses largely targeting the Daoussahak people, a Tuareg tribe.
To date, however, Tuareg tribes have not responded to the general's call, nor has the Malian government or the Malian army commented on it.
Mauritanian political analyst Mohammed el-Amine al-Dah, who specialises in terror groups in the Sahel, attributes this to "the political situation of Tuareg youth".
These young people "see themselves as victims of injustice and marginalisation by the Malian army", he explained.
Al-Dah told Al-Mashareq he does not expect the general's call to fall on receptive ears or that it will receive a response from the major Tuareg movements in the region, especially the Azawad People's Movement.
It is also unlikely that the initiative will lay a foundation for a Tuareg youth movement in all North African countries that would spawn a Tuareg rebellion against terrorist groups in the Sahel and Sahara region, he said.
Residents uneasy over security
If a popular movement is to emerge to combat the security chaos and spread of terrorist groups, al-Dah said, "the call must come from more than one Tuareg figure, more than one group, and more than one political organisation".
It is also necessary for the Malian government and its military combat units to work to improve their image further in order to gain favour with the Azawadis, the Tuareg and even the Arab entities present there, he said.
The general's call underscores "the inability of the Malian army forces to confront ISIS, which has become more ferocious and violent than before", he said.
It also highlights their failure to address "the profound and widespread discontent among the population of northern Mali over the deterioration of the security situation", he added.
Sahel countries, especially Mali, "do not have the ability to confront dangerous and pervasive terrorist groups", he noted.
"Furthermore, the social, security and even political and geographical situation in the region is conducive to the growth and proliferation of these groups, and make it easy for them to move around and carry out terrorist attacks," he said.
"The Malian army is hard-pressed to fight them alone," he added, noting, "France's withdrawal increased the ferocity of these groups and gave them an opportunity to appear victorious."
The only way to confront terror groups is to "activate the regional coalition", al-Dah said.
This would involve "France continuing to provide support and assistance to the armies of Mali's neighbouring countries, and logistical and security support to the Malian army, to try to help it regain control over the areas ISIS has seized".
Instability in southern Libya
In Libya, the Tuareg tribes have a presence that is mainly concentrated in the south, said Supreme Social Council of the Tuareg tribes member Majdi Bouhna.
The Libyan Tuareg youth are unlikely to respond to the call by the Malian general to join the fight against ISIS, he told Al-Mashareq,"because these tribes are preoccupied with their internal situation in Libya".
"The security, economic and social situation in the country is unstable, especially in the south, which faces the same threats from terrorist groups," he said.
The vast areas of southern Libya, which are not monitored by security forces, are teeming with smuggling gangs, especially Chadian and Sudanese gangs that smuggle weapons and drugs, he noted.
Meanwhile, ISIS elements and members of other terrorist groups use the corridors they control to move between the countries of the Sahel and the Sahara, Bouhna said.