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Mali: National Security
Country Study > National Security


Armed Forces Overview: Mali’s military forces consist of an army, which includes land forces and a small navy and air force, as well as the paramilitary Gendarmerie and Republican Guard, all of which are under the control of the Ministry of Defense and Veterans, headed by a civilian. The military is underpaid, poorly equipped, and in need of rationalization. Its organization has suffered from the incorporation of Tuareg irregular forces into the regular military following a 1992 agreement between the government and Tuareg rebel forces. The military has generally kept a low profile since the democratic transition of 1992. The incumbent president, Amadou Toumani Touré (elected in 2002), is a former army general and as such reportedly enjoys widespread military support. In its annual human rights report for 2003, the U.S. Department of State rated civilian control of security forces as generally effective but noted a few “instances in which elements of the security forces acted independently of government authority.”

Foreign Military Relations: In the early post-independence era, Mali’s military relied on the former Soviet Union for matériel and training, but Mali now looks more to the West. Malian forces have received limited military assistance and training from the United States, France, and Germany. Mali is an active contributor to peacekeeping forces in West and Central Africa and has supported initiatives to create an African military crisis-response force.

External Threat: Mali has been adversely affected by the spillover of terrorism from Algeria to the north, instability from Côte d’Ivoire on the southern border, and general insecurity in its vast northern desert area bordering Algeria, Mauritania, and Niger. Poorly defined borders have led to problems with Mauritania, which Mali has accused of supporting Tuareg rebels, and with Burkina Faso, with which Mali engaged in brief hostilities arising from a border dispute in 1985.

Defense Budget: Defense expenditures in 2003 were estimated at US$51.1 million. They constituted about 13 percent of the national budget and 1.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

Major Military Units: The army has a total of 7,350 active personnel, including 6,900 land forces and a much smaller air force (400) and navy (50). Land forces are organized into two tank, four infantry, one airborne, two artillery, one engineer, and one special forces battalions, as well as two air defense and one surface-to-air (SAM) missile batteries. The navy operates from bases in Bamako, Mopti, Ségou, and Tombouctou.

Major Military Equipment: According to The Military Balance, 2004–2005, the army’s land forces were equipped with 33 main battle tanks, 18 light tanks, 20 reconnaissance vehicles, 50 armored personnel carriers, 20 towed artillery, 2 multiple rocket launchers, 30 mortars, 12 air defense guns, and 12 surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) as well as an unspecified number of antitank guided weapons and rocket launchers. The navy had three river patrol craft. The air force had 16 MiG combat aircraft, including 5 ground-attack fighters and 11 fighter aircraft, as well as 3 transport aircraft, 13 training aircraft, and 4 helicopters (not armed).

Military Service: Military service is based on selective conscription for two years, with eligibility for the draft beginning at age 18. According to 2004 estimates, the manpower pool included 2.5 million males aged 15–49, of whom about 1.5 million were estimated to be fit for military service.

Paramilitary Forces: Paramilitary forces in 2004 included the Gendarmerie (1,800 personnel organized into eight companies), Republican Guard (2,000), and militia (3,000). The Gendarmerie, subordinate to the Ministry of Defense and Veterans, shares responsibility for internal security with the civilian national police force (1,000).

Foreign Military Forces: Mali hosts a small number of U.S. military instructors. In the late 1990s, U.S. military instructors trained Malian forces for peacekeeping missions. In early 2004, the United States sent military personnel to Mali to provide training in combating banditry and terrorism. Under the Pan-Sahel Initiative, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Chad each received U.S. training and equipment for a 150-member rapid-reaction company. A proposed follow-on program called the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Initiative (TSCTI) would provide additional security assistance to nations in the region and foster greater regional cooperation and information sharing in the war on terrorism.

Military Forces Abroad: In 2004 Mali was participating in peacekeeping missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo (28 personnel including 27 observers), Liberia (252 personnel, including 4 observers), and Sierra Leone (3 observers). In 1997–2000, Mali had sent a military contingent to the Central African Republic.

Police: Mali’s national police force, numbering about 1,000 personnel in 2004, is subordinate to the Ministry of Internal Security and Civil Protection. The police force shares responsibility for internal security with the paramilitary Gendarmerie. Police responsibilities are concentrated exclusively in urban areas. Local police districts are headed by commissioners, who report to regional directors at national police headquarters. The police force is judged to be moderately effective despite deficiencies in resources and training and the persistence of corruption.

Internal Threat: Mali’s far north is regarded as insecure because of the presence of an Algerian terrorist group with reputed ties to Al Qaeda, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat—GSPC), and other armed groups, as well as the prevalence of banditry in the vast desert area and along the borders with Mauritania and Niger. In addition, the nomadic Tuareg traditionally have opposed the central government in the quest for greater regional autonomy in the north. Hostilities broke out in June 1990, and rebel forces succeeded in routing government forces on several occasions. In April 1992, the government signed a pact with rebel forces to end the fighting and restore stability in the north. Among the measures agreed on were the creation of a new administrative region of Kidal, the incorporation of Tuareg fighters into the armed forces, the demilitarization of the north, and the implementation of steps designed to promote greater economic and political integration of the Tuareg. Nevertheless, conditions remained anarchic until the mid-1990s, and periodic outbreaks of violence, banditry, kidnaping, and other acts of lawlessness persist.

Terrorism: Members of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat—GSPC), a terrorist group seeking to overthrow the Algerian government and reportedly linked to Al Qaeda, took shelter in the far north of Mali in mid-2003 along with their 15 European hostages. The government assisted in securing the release of the hostages, thus earning considerable good will from the U.S. government, which has since provided both economic aid and military training. In general, the Malian government has been vocal in its support of the U.S.-led war on terrorism in the early to mid-2000s. In March 2004, Mali announced its intention of increasing counterterrorism cooperation with Algeria, Chad, and Niger. In the face of continued activity by the GSPC in 2004, including some armed clashes with Malian military forces, Mali has increased military patrols in the region.

Human Rights: According to the U.S. Department of State’s annual human rights report for 2003, Mali’s government generally respects the human rights of its citizens and observes relevant constitutional provisions (e.g., freedom of speech and of the press, freedom of assembly and association, freedom of religion) and prohibitions (e.g., arbitrary arrest and detention, forced exile, torture, and discrimination based on race, sex, disability, language, or social status). There have been no reports of political prisoners or politically motivated disappearances in Mali. But prison conditions are poor (overcrowded, with inadequate medical facilities and food supplies), and there are occasional instances of arbitrary arrest or detention. Moreover, the judicial system has a large case backlog, which has caused significant delays in trials as well as long periods of pretrial detention. Men play a dominant role in society, and women continue to suffer from widespread discrimination and domestic violence. Child labor and trafficking in children as forced labor remain serious problems. Relationships based on hereditary servitude and bondage persist between some ethnic groups.

Last Updated: January 2005

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Mali was first published in 2005. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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