The Mali War started from January 2012 between the northern and southern parts of the country. As a consequence of the instability following the coup, the Islamist group Ansar Dine a number of smaller Islamist groups began imposing strict Sharia law.

Hundreds of young men are stuffed into makeshift training camps near this provincial capital, arising at 4 a.m. for physical exercises and simulated hand-to-hand combat in preparation for the day when they can free their north Mali homeland from the radical Islamists whose harsh rule has driven tens of thousands of frightened, desperate civilians to flee the country.

The eager recruits have almost no weapons, little military instruction, and not much more than the hard ground to sleep on. They are definitely not in the army. A trainer in a scavenged uniform yells out, “Present, arms!” but there are no arms to present.