Mali army struggles against fastest-growing Islamist revolt

At the heart of the world’s fastest-growing Islamist insurgency, a national force of approximately 12,000 soldiers struggles to defend a population of 20 million.

Malian troops are rapidly losing ground; officials in this west African nation say, as militants linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State sweep the rural north and push towards bigger cities.

National leaders pledged this year to nearly double the size of the army, asserting that military help from France and regional partners was not enough to stop the enemy. Yet they are short on weapons, vehicles and basic supplies for combatants already on the payroll – a cost that devours nearly a quarter of Mali‘s budget.

“We don’t have a choice,” said General Oumar Dao, chief of staff for the Malian president. “We increase, or they increase.”

Where funding is lacking, enthusiasm surges: an average of three people raise their hands for every opening in the army, according to official estimates, even as the war against the extremists reaches bloody new heights.