Mali: U.S. Africa Command’s New War?
February 15, 2012
Mali: U.S. Africa Command’s New War?
The press wires are reporting on intensified fighting in Mali between the nation’s military and ethnic Tuareg rebels of the Azawad National Liberation Movement in the north of the nation.
As the only news agencies with global sweep and the funds and infrastructure to maintain bureaus and correspondents throughout the world are those based in leading member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – the Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse, BBC News and Deutsche Presse-Agentur – the coverage of ongoing developments in Mali, like those in most every other country, reflects a Western bias and a Western agenda.
Typical headlines on the topic, then, include the following:
“Arms and men out of Libya fortify Mali rebellion” Reuters
President: Tuareg fighters from Libya stoke violence in Mali” CNN
“Colonel Gaddafi armed Tuaregs pound Mali” The Scotsman
“France denounces killings in Mali rebel offensive” Agence France-Presse
“Mali, France Condemn Alleged Tuareg Rebel Atrocities” Voice of America
To reach Mali from Libya is at least a 500-mile journey through Algeria and/or Niger. As the rebels of course don’t have an air force, don’t have military transport aircraft, the above headlines and the propaganda they synopsize imply that Tuareg fighters marched the entire distance from Libya to their homeland in convoys containing heavy weapons through at least one other nation without being detected or deterred by local authorities. And that, moreover, to launch an offensive three months following the murder of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi after his convoy was struck by French bombs and a U.S. Hellfire missile last October. But the implication that Algeria and Niger, especially the first, are complicit in the transit of Tuareg fighters and arms from Libya to Mali is ominous in terms of expanding Western accusations – and actions – in the region.
Armed rebellions are handled differently in Western-dominated world news reporting depending on how the rebels and the governments they oppose are viewed by leading NATO members.
In recent years the latter have provided military and logistical support to armed rebel formations – in most instances engaged in cross-order attacks and with separatist and irredentist agendas – in Kosovo, Macedonia, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Libya and now Syria, and on the intelligence and “diplomatic” fronts in Russia, China, Pakistan, Sudan, Iran, Indonesia, Congo, Myanmar, Laos and Bolivia.
However, major NATO powers have adopted the opposite tack when it comes to Turkey, Morocco (with its 37-year occupation of the Western Sahara), Colombia, the Philippines, the Central African Republic, Chad and other nations that are their military clients or territory controlled by them, where the U.S. and its Western allies supply weapons, advisers, special forces and so-called peacekeeping forces.
The drumbeat of alarmist news concerning Mali is a signal that the West intends to open another military front on the African continent following last year’s seven-month air, naval and special operations campaign against Libya and ongoing operations in Somalia and Central Africa with the recent deployment of American special forces to Uganda, Congo, the Central African Republic and South Sudan. In Ivory Coast, Mali’s neighbor to the south, last February the French military with compliant United Nations troops – “peacekeepers” – fired rockets into the presidential residence and forcibly abducted standing president Laurent Gbagbo.
U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) first became operational as the warfighting force it was intended to be from the beginning in running the first two weeks of the war against Libya last March with Operation Odyssey Dawn before turning the campaign over to NATO for seven more months of relentless bombing and missile strikes.
Mali may be the second military operation conducted by AFRICOM.
The landlocked country is the spoke of the wheel of former French West Africa, bordered by every other member except Benin: Burkina Faso, Guinea (Conakry), Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal. It also shares a border with Algeria, another former French possession, on its north.
Mali is Africa’s third largest producer of gold after South Africa and Ghana. It possesses sizeable uranium deposits run by French concessions in the north of the country, the scene of the current fighting. Tuareg demands include granting some control over the uranium mines and the revenue they generate. Major explorations for oil and natural gas, also in the north, have been conducted in recent years as well.
The nation is also a key pivot for the U.S.’s Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Partnership established in 2005 (initially as the Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Initiative), which grew out of the Pan Sahel Initiative of 2003-2004.
In May of 2005 U.S. Special Operations Command Europe inaugurated the Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Initiative by dispatching 1,000 special forces troops to Northwest Africa for Operation Flintlock to train the armed forces of Mali, Algeria, Chad, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Tunisia, the seven original African members of the Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Initiative, which in its current format also includes Burkina Faso, Morocco and Nigeria. Libya will soon be brought into that format as it will the NATO Mediterranean Dialogue military partnership.
The American special forces led the first of what have now become annual Operation Flintlock counterinsurgency exercises with the above nations of the Sahel and Magreb. The following year NATO conducted the large-scale Steadfast Jaguar war games in the West African island nation of Cape Verde to launch the NATO Response Force, after which the African Standby Force has been modeled.
Flintlock 07 and 08 were held in Mali. Flintlock 10 was held in several African nations, including Mali.
On February 7 of this year the U.S. and Mali began the Atlas Accord 12 joint air delivery exercise in the African nation, but Flintlock 12, scheduled for later in the month, was postponed because of the fighting in the north. Sixteen nations were to have participated, including several of the U.S.’s major NATO allies.
Last year’s Flintlock included military units from the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, Nigeria and Senegal.
When AFRICOM became an independent Unified Combatant Command on October 1, 2008, the first new overseas U.S. regional military command established in the post-Cold War era, AFRICOM and Special Operations Command Africa’s Joint Special Operations Task Force-Trans Sahara took control of the Flintlock exercises from U.S. European Command and U.S. Special Operations Command Europe.
In 2010 AFRICOM announced that Special Operations Command Africa “will gain control over Joint Special Operations Task Force-Trans Sahara (JSOTF-TS) and Special Operations Command and Control Element–Horn of Africa (SOCCE-HOA).”
Last year the AFRICOM website wrote:
“Conducted by Special Operations Command Africa, Flintlock is a joint multinational exercise to improve information sharing at the operational and tactical levels across the Saharan region while fostering increased collaboration and coordination. It’s focused on military interoperability and capacity-building for U.S., North American and European Partner Nations, and select units in Northern and Western Africa.”
Although the stated purposed of the Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Partnership and its Flintlock multinational exercises is to train the militaries of nations in the Sahel and Magreb to combat Islamist extremist groups in the region, in fact the U.S. and its allies waged war against the government of Libya last year in support of similar elements, and the practical application of Pentagon military training and deployment in Northwest Africa has been to fight Tuareg militias rather than outfits like al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb or Nigeria’s Boko Haram.
The U.S. and its NATO allies have also conducted and supported other military exercises in the area for similar purposes. In 2008 the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the regional economic group from which the U.S.- and NATO-backed West African Standby Force was formed, held a military exercise named Jigui 2008 in Mali, which was “supported by the host governments as well as France, Denmark, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and the European Union,” as the Ghana News Agency reported at the time.
AFRICOM also runs annual Africa Endeavor multinational communications interoperability exercises primarily in West Africa. Last year’s planning conference was held in the Malian capital of Bamako and, according to U.S. Army Africa, “brought together more than 180 participants from 41 African, European and North American nations, as well as observers from Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the Eastern African Standby Force and NATO to plan interoperability testing of communications and information systems of participating nations.” The main exercise was also held in Mali.
The U.S. military has been ensconced in the nation since at least 2005 and Voice of America revealed in that year that the Pentagon had “established a temporary operations center on a Malian air force base near Bamako. The facility is to provide logistical support and emergency services for U.S. troops training with local forces in five countries in the region.”
The following year U.S. European Command and NATO Supreme Allied Command Europe chief Marine General James Jones, subsequently the Obama administration’s first national security advisor, “made the disclosure [that] the Pentagon was seeking to acquire access to…bases in Senegal, Ghana, Mali and Kenya and other African countries,” according to a story published on Ghana Web.
In 2007 a soldier with the 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group based in Stuttgart, Germany, where AFRICOM headquarters are based, died in Kidal, Mali, where fighting is currently occurring. His death was attributed to a “non-combat related incident.” The next year a soldier with the Canadian Forces Military Training Assistance Programme also lost his life in Mali.
Last year the Canadian Special Operations Regiment deployed troops to the northern Mali conflict zone for what was described “an ongoing mission.” Canadian Special Operations Regiment forces also participated in the Flintlock 11 exercise in Senegal.
In September of 2007 an American C-130 Hercules military transport plane was hit by rifle fire while dropping supplies to Malian troops under siege by Tuareg forces.
According to Stars and Stripes:
“The plane and its crew, which belong to the 67th Special Operations Squadron, were in Mali as part of a previously scheduled exercise called Flintlock 2007…Malian troops had become surrounded at their base in the Tin-Zaouatene region near the Algerian border by armed fighters and couldn’t get supplies…[T]he Mali government asked the U.S. forces to perform the airdrops…”
In 2009 the U.S. announced it was providing the government of Mali with over $5 million in new vehicles and other equipment.
Later in the year the website of U.S. Air Forces in Europe reported:
“The first C-130J Super Hercules mission in support of U.S. Air Forces Africa, or 17th Air Force, opened up doors to a future partnership of support between the 86th Airlift Wing and upcoming missions into Africa.
“The mission’s aircraft commander, Maj. Robert May of the 37th Airlift Squadron, and his crew were tasked to fly into Mali Dec. 19 to bring home 17 troops who were assisting with training Malian forces.”
The U.S. has been involved in the war in Mali for almost twelve years. Recent atrocity stories in the Western press will fuel demands for a “Responsibility to Protect” intervention after the fashion of those in Ivory Coast and Libya a year ago and will provide the pretext for American and NATO military involvement in the country.
AFRICOM may be planning its next war.