Category Archives: Mali

The Drone War Goes Awry in Africa

Geoff D. Porter reports for Foreign Policy:

Three years ago this month, a previously unknown Islamist group, the Mourabitoun, launched an unprecedented attack on a natural gas facility near the eastern Algerian town of In Amenas. But after its dramatic opening salvo, the group went strangely quiet. Some argued the In Amenas attack was as irreproducible as it was unprecedented — and those voices gained strength after Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the Mourabitoun’s leader and founder, was reported to have been killed by a U.S. drone strike last summer.

The doubters have now been quieted. After three years of inactivity, the Mourabitoun has abruptly reappeared. The Jan. 15 attack on a restaurant and hotel in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, which left at least 28 people dead, was the second deadly incident involving Belmokhtar’s group in less than two months. The first, some 500 miles away in neighboring Mali on Nov. 20, was a joint operation with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). It involved three assailants, armed with AK-47s and grenades, who rampaged through the Radisson Blu hotel in downtown Bamako, sparking an hours-long siege during which 27 people were killed. It remains unclear whether the assailants were trained and equipped by AQIM or by the Mourabitoun — or even whether the distinction is still valid.

But the Bamako and Ouagadougou attacks, though nearly identical, represent a marked departure from the In Amenas attack. The differences underscore how much the Mourabitoun’s capabilities, tactics, strategy, and even its geographical focus have shifted over the last 36 months. They also offer plenty of reasons to reconsider the strategy, developed by proponents of the U.S. drone war, of neutralizing terrorist groups by “decapitating” their leaders.



Jihadists Deepen Collaboration in North Africa

Carlotta Gall reports for The New York Times:

A group of light armored vehicles skated over the moonscape of the Sahara, part of one of the largest detachments the French military has deployed here since colonial times. Its mission is growing ever more urgent: to cut smuggling routes used by jihadists who have turned this inhospitable terrain into a sprawling security challenge for African and international forces alike.

Many of the extremist groups are affiliates of Al Qaeda, which has had roots in North Africa since the 1990s. With the recent introduction of Islamic State franchises, the jihadist push has been marked by increasing, sometimes heated, competition.

But, analysts and military officials say, there is also deepening collaboration among groups using modern communications and a sophisticated system of roving trainers to share military tactics, media strategies and ways of transferring money.

Their threat has grown as Libya — with its ungoverned spaces, oil, ports, and proximity to Europe and the Middle East — becomes a budding hub of operations for both Al Qaeda and the Islamic State to reach deeper into Africa.

And as Africa’s jihadists come under the wing of distant and more powerful patrons, officials fear that they are extending their reach and stitching together their ambitions, turning once-local actors into pan-national threats.


U.S. Officials Warned of Mali Terror Strike Prior to November Attack

Nick Turse reports for The Intercept:

On November 20, two heavily armed Islamic militants stormed a luxury hotel in Mali’s capital, Bamako, killing 22 people, including one American. As initial reports of the carnage emerged, so too did word that elite U.S. troops were also involved in the rescue operation.

About two years prior, another team of Americans — State Department and Africom personnel — traveled to Mali on a low-profile mission, interviewing local experts and government officials about the country’s antiterrorism capabilities. The internal report, marked “sensitive” and not intended for audiences outside the U.S. and Malian governments, offered a bleak assessment of the West African nation’s counterterrorism capabilities as well as a prophetic caution.

The December 2013 State Department Antiterrorism Assistance report, obtained by The Intercept via the Freedom of Information Act, characterized the north of the country as imperiled by a number of terror groups that “remain able to evade French pursuit.” The south was portrayed as far more secure, though the report notes that “a small number of experts” told the authors to “anticipate a terrorist attack in Bamako at some point.”


Mali hotel attack “puts Al-Qaeda back on the map in the competition against ISIS”

In Mali and Rest of Africa, the U.S. Military Fights a Hidden War

Nick Turse reports for The Intercept:

The General leading the U.S. military’s hidden war in Africa says the continent is now home to nearly 50 terrorist organizations and “illicit groups” that threaten U.S. interests. And today, gunmen reportedly yelling “Allahu Akbar” stormed the Radisson Blu hotel in Mali’s capital and seized several dozen hostages. U.S. special operations forces are “currently assisting hostage recovery efforts,” a Pentagon spokesperson said, and U.S. personnel have “helped move civilians to secured locations, as Malian forces clear the hotel of hostile gunmen.”

In Mali, groups like Ansar Dine and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa have long posed a threat. Major terrorist groups in Africa include al Shabaab, Boko Haram and al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM). In the wake of the Paris attacks by ISIS, attention has been drawn to ISIS affiliates in Egypt and Libya, too. But what are the dozens of other groups in Africa that the Pentagon is fighting with more special operations forces, more outposts, and more missions than ever?

For the most part, the Pentagon won’t say.

[…] The secret of whom the U.S. military is fighting extends to Africa. Since 9/11, U.S. military efforts on the continent have grown in every conceivable way, from funding and manpower to missions and outposts, while at the same time the number of transnational terror groups has increased in linear fashion, according to the military. The reasons for this are murky. Is it a spillover from events in the Middle East and Central Asia? Are U.S. operations helping to spawn and spread terror groups? Is the Pentagon inflating the terror threat for its own gain? Is the rise of these terrorist organizations due to myriad local factors? Or more likely, is it a combination of these and other reasons? The task of answering these questions is made more difficult when no one in the military is willing to name more than a handful of the transnational terror groups that are classified as America’s enemies.


How US-Backed Intervention in Libya Spread Chaos to Nearby Mali: Interview with Nick Turse

Amy Goodman speak to Nick Turse, author of Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa and journalist for TomDispatch and The Intercept. This interview with Turse was recorded earlier in November with the segment on Mali republished in light of the hostage crisis in Bamako, Mali. (Democracy Now!)

Mali to UN: Consider a Rapid Intervention Force

Cara Anna reports for The Associated Press:

‘Mali’s foreign minister urged the United Nations on Wednesday to consider creating a rapid intervention force to fight extremist groups in the African country’s troubled north, warning that the region “once again runs the risk of becoming the destination of hordes of terrorists.”

Abdoulaye Diop spoke to the U.N. Security Council via videoconference the day after a peacekeeper with the U.N. mission in Mali was killed in a rocket attack. That follows the death of nine peacekeepers in an attack on Friday, the deadliest since the mission began last year.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous has called the situation “intolerable” as French troops in northern Mali draw down, leaving peacekeepers largely on their own in the rebellious region. Ladsous told the council that the rate of attacks has increased substantially and that with the “quasi-disappearance” of Mali’s forces, “we cannot face the threat alone.”‘


Pentagon set to open second drone base in Niger as it expands operations in Africa

Craig Whitlock reports for The Washington Post:

‘The Pentagon is preparing to open a drone base in one of the remotest places on Earth: an ancient caravan crossroads in the middle of the Sahara. After months of negotiations, the government of Niger, a landlocked West African nation, has authorized the U.S. military to fly unarmed drones from the mud-walled desert city of Agadez, according to Nigerien and U.S. officials.

The previously undisclosed decision gives the Pentagon another surveillance hub — its second in Niger and third in the region — to track Islamist fighters who have destabilized parts of North and West Africa. It also advances a little-publicized U.S. strategy to tackle counterterrorism threats alongside France, the former colonial power in that part of the continent.

Although the two allies have a sporadic history of quarreling when it comes to military action, U.S. and French troops have been working hand in glove as they steadily expand their presence in impoverished West Africa. Both countries are alarmed by the presence of jihadist groups, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, that have taken root in states whose governments are unable to exert control over their own territory.’


The Decline of the Fifth Republic: A Legacy of Imperialism

Alexander Reid Ross writes for CounterPunch:

‘After just two years in power, French Socialist François Hollande has become one of the least popular leaders in Europe. He has taken much of the blame for chipping away at France’s social wage and for the rise of the radical right wing. Rather than listening to his economy minister Arnaud Montebourg’s recap of Paul Krugman’s critique of “absurd” fiscal cuts, Hollande has accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Emanuel Valls, dissolved his entire government, and ordered Valls to form a new cabinet. The question is not only whether Hollande can still call himself a socialist, but whether the French Fifth Republic can hold on.

The immediate response is that this is just a shakeup, typical of the rebellious style of French political life. But what if there is something much deeper at play? When the Fourth Republic fell in 1958, it was due to the coming dissolution of France’s colonial empire, beginning with Algeria. The French army swept through the backdoors of the French Republic, and in a rapid coup d’etat, overthrew the republican system, reinstating Charles de Gaulle as leader.

Although de Gaulle allowed the government to return to a quasi-democratic process, Gaullism has remained a hard kernel in French politics, emerging powerfully in the 1970s and again for 17 years through the Party for a Popular Movement’s big hitters, Jacques Chirac and Nicholas Sarkozy, after a window of Socialist governance by François Mitterand in the 1980s. The chief reason for the recent shakeup in the French government is not only Montebourg’s claims that financial matters have been mishandled, but his insistence on comparing Hollande unfavorable to Margaret Thatcher and to de Gaulle, himself!’


France bombs Mali militants, expands operations in Sahel region

BBC News reports:

Map showing where militant groups are based‘French forces have bombed Islamist militant positions in northern Mali. Four or five bombs were dropped in the Esssakane region, west of the city of Timbuktu on Sunday morning, the BBC’s Alex Duval Smith in Mali reports. The UN has said al-Qaeda militants were active in the area. Last month Timbuktu airport came under rocket attack.

France intervened in Mali in January last year to try to drive out al-Qaeda-linked groups, which had taken over the north of the country. Last month the French government said it was setting up a new military operation to stop the emergence of jihadist groups in the Sahel region of Africa.

Both ethnic Tuareg separatists and al-Qaeda-linked militants are operating in northern Mali. Tuareg rebels agreed a ceasefire with Mali’s government in May, and the two have been holding peace talks in Algeria.’

Mali, northern rebels agree on ‘roadmap’ for peace talks

Reuters reports:

‘Mali’s government and Tuareg-led rebels on Thursday signed an agreement for a roadmap toward securing a broader peace deal to end decades of uprisings in the north.

Mali’s vast northern desert region – called Azawad by the Tuareg rebels – has risen up four times in the last 50 years, with various groups fighting for independence or self-rule. The roadmap calls for negotiations to work out “questions of substance” between Aug. 17 and Sept. 11 before a second round in October to discuss areas such as security, reconciliation and humanitarian issues. A final peace agreement will be signed in Mali, but Thursday’s accord gives no date for that last step.’


Air Algerie Plane Crashes in Militant-Held Mali Region

Jason Ditz writes for Antiwar:

The worst week of air disasters in history continued today, with the Air Algerie Flight 5017 the latest plane to crash, apparently killing all 116 people in board. Once again, a civilian airliner has gone down in a warzone.

Flight 5017 went down in northern Mali, where various al-Qaeda-linked factions are known to be active, but conspicuously, there was none of the speculation surrounding previous crashes like MH17 in Ukraine, and even before the plane was found Malian officials were quick to dismiss it as a random lightning strike.’


France to Shift Mali Troops to Battle Regional Terrorism

From Reuters:

France said Sunday that it was reorganizing its forces in Mali and surrounding countries into a single regional body focused on battling terrorists in northwestern Africa. The announcement came just days before the start of peace talks to end Mali’s separatist rebellions.

“It’s a regional operation to ensure the security of the area and prevent jihadist groups from emerging again,” the French defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said on Europe 1 radio. France has 1,700 troops in Mali, but under the new plan about 3,000 French soldiers, based in Mali, Chad and Niger, will become part of a regional counterterrorism operation.’


Did the U.S. War in Libya Boost Boko Haram in Nigeria?

From the Institute for Public Accuracy:

Baraka is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies who is based in Colombia. He has written extensively on Africa and just wrote the piece “From Benghazi to Boko Haram: Why I support the Benghazi Inquiry,” which states: “Seemingly out of nowhere, Boko Haram burst into the awareness of people around the world as a shadowy group of Islamists with the ability to carry out audacious attacks that paralyzed the army of the most populous country in Africa. People now want to know the group’s origins, where they came from, why they are kidnapping girls and how they became such a powerful threat. All important questions — but questions that cannot be answered by just looking at the internal politics of Nigeria, as important as those are, because Boko Haram is incomprehensible when decontextualized from the destabilization, death and destruction unleashed across Africa from the Sahel into West Africa as a result of one historic event — the vicious NATO obliteration of the state of Libya.’


France, Germany to send joint troops to Mali

Deutsch-Französische Brigade Soldaten Deutschland Frankreich From DW:

A joint statement was issued on Wednesday following a security and defense meeting in the French capital. Paris and Berlin agreed to send troops from a joint military brigade to Mali, marking its first deployment under the aegis of the EU to an African state.

The statement also made clear the role of the troops being sent to the West African nation, as they will integrate with a European mission to train soldiers. The mission was launched in February last year and has already trained nearly 3,000 Malian forces.

It is yet to be announced how many troops would be sent to the former French colony. However, both sides called for greater investment to help reorganize and train soldiers, as well as the police and other security forces in Mali.


African nations form G5 to work on Sahel security, development

From Reuters:

The leaders of Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso agreed on Sunday to create a regional organisation to strengthen cooperation on development and security in the Sahel region.

Mauritania will host the headquarters of the new grouping, dubbed the G5 Sahel, and its President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz will initially take the chair, according to a statement issued after a meeting in the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott.

The Sahel is an arid belt of land south of the Sahara desert which runs across Africa from Mauritania in the west to Sudan in the east.


German defense minister signals greater role in Africa

From AFP:

Germany’s new defense minister said Sunday her country should engage more strongly in Africa by sending additional military trainers to Mali and supporting the French intervention in Central African Republic.

Ursula von der Leyen said she foresaw boosting the training mission in Mali from its current mandate of 180 personnel, with 99 now on the ground, to up to 250, and deploying a medical services airbus to back up the French mission in CAR.

Asked by news weekly Der Spiegel whether Germany — often criticized for its post-World War II reluctance to send troops abroad — should boost its international military engagement, she said “within the framework of our alliances, yes.”

[…] In the long term European national armies should be merged into a European military because “unified armed forces are a logical consequence of an ever-increasing military cooperation in Europe,” said the minister who has been in her post for about one month.


Desert Gives Al-Qaeda Refuge After Mali Defeat

AP/Paul SchemmFrom AP:

Swathed in a white turban and robes, Eissa Abdel Majid sits in his militia barracks on the edge of the desert describing a losing battle to stem the flow of armed militants with suspected links to al-Qaida — who use it as a freeway across northern Africa.

He says he’s fed up with trying to guard borders and oil installations in a power vacuum left by the fall of Moammar Gadhafi: “They are getting weapons and building their strength,” he says, “because the government is weak.”

In the rocky mountains and dune-covered wastes of southwestern Libya, al-Qaida’s North African branch has established a haven after French and West African forces drove them out of their fledgling Islamic state in northern Mali a year ago. Now, according to interviews with local soldiers, residents, officials and Western diplomats, it is restocking weapons and mining disaffected minorities for new recruits as it prepares to relaunch attacks. It’s an al-Qaida pattern seen around the world, in hot spots such as Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and increasingly here in North Africa: seemingly defeated, the terror network only retreats to remote areas, regroups and eventually bounces back — pointing to the extreme difficulties involved in stamping out the threat.


France accused of paying Mali rebels €25m ransom for release of four hostages despite pledge (plus other news from Mali)

From The Independent:

Paris has been accused of paying around €25m (£21.4m) for four hostages released by Islamist rebels in northern Mali, despite a personal pledge by President François Hollande to refuse all ransom deals.

After more than three years in captivity in remote mountains on the Mali-Algerian frontier, the four French mining engineers returned to Paris to an emotional greeting from their families and President Hollande.

The men, who appeared strained  but well, refused to speak to the  waiting press.

The French government spokesman and the foreign and defence ministers denied that any ransom had been paid, despite detailed reports by the newspaper, Le Monde, and the news agency, Agence France-Press, both quoting sources in  the French  intelligence services and the Niger government.

Pierre Legrand, Daniel Larribe, Thierry Dol  and Marc Féret were seized with three other French citizens from a uranium mining camp in Niger in September 2010.

According to the official version  of events, they were freed on  Tuesday following negotiations involving the president of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou.

France has often been reported to have paid ransoms in the past, including a reported €13m which was handed over by former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government for the three other hostages seized in Niger in 2010, including Mr Larribe’s  wife, Françoise.

Earlier this year, during France’s successful military campaign against extremist Islamist groups in Mali, President Hollande pledged that his government would refuse all payments which helped to sustain  such rebellions.

The government’s official spokeswoman, Najat Vallaud- Belkacem, insisted that this policy remained unchanged.



Africa desert helps breed radicals, from Al Shabab to Boko Haram to Mr. Marlboro

The SahelFrom CS Monitor:

Africa’s Sahel belt is a 600-mile-wide semiarid zone stretching from Senegal in the west to Somalia in the east. The vast, seemingly ungovernable terrain has become a sanctuary for Islamist militants.

After the Arab Spring, and then at the end of Muammar Qaddafi’s dictatorship, many hoped for an end to terror in the Sahel.

Instead, weapons spilling out of Libya and ongoing military efforts to drive Al Qaeda-linked groups from places like Mali and Nigeria have hardened Islamist fighters here. This in turn has increased the risk of violence across the region.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has called the area “Sahelistan,” likening it to remote areas in Afghanistan where US troops struggled for years to pin down the Taliban.

[…] The Sahel groups are reportedly small but their influence is felt where they are based, in Guinea, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Niger, Mauritania, Somalia, and Sudan. The worry in the West is that extremists will use the Sahel to launch terror attacks overseas.


U.N.’s Mali task is state-building as much as peacekeeping

A UN peacekeeper from Senegal sits in an armored vehicle during patrol in BamakoFrom Reuters:

The U.N. is being dragged into a mission in Mali likely to involve state-building as much as peacekeeping, as France looks to reduce its military footprint in the vast and poor Sahel state after defeating an Islamist rebellion.

The day Mali elected a new president this month, the French general who led the military campaign to push the rebels from its desert north flew back home, his job done.

That evening, the United Nations official now responsible for helping to rebuild the West African nation landed at the same airport in Bamako after visiting the cradle of last year’s rebellion, his task only just beginning.

France’s successful seven-month-old campaign to destroy the Islamist enclave has killed hundreds of fighters linked to al Qaeda and scattered others far across the Sahara.

But with Paris keen to wrap up “Operation Serval” quickly, and Mali’s West African neighbors unable to keep the peace there alone, the U.N. faces what some people see as an open-ended mission with precious few resources.

How long the planned 12,600 U.N. peacekeeping force will take to roll out fully remains unclear. It is even less clear how suited the multinational mission is to a task which includes helping the government to reestablish itself in the north and eventually handing responsibility for security to Mali’s army.



The Mali Election Scam: Legitimizing France’s ‘Total Re-conquest’

AFRICOMFrom Global Research:

“The objective is the total reconquest of Mali” -French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, (20 January, 2013)

[…] The French ruling class wants to create an image of legitimacy for its invasion and “total re-conquest” of Mali. The Malian elections are a total sham. They have been imposed on a people traumatized by a war planned and foisted upon them by imperialism.

The partition of the country corresponds to the plan elaborated by French politician Alain Peyrefitte during the De Gaulle era, which involves creating the conditions for French control over the Sahara/Sahel region.

The French are attempting to resurrect the 1957 L’Organisation commune des régions sahariennes (OCRS) in co-operation with the 2004 US Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Initiative, a plan to control the Sahara which could see the eventual destabilization of Niger, Algeria, Tchad, Morocco, Tunisia, Mauritania, Senegal and Ghana.

This is part of the US initiative Africom, which aims to militarize all of Africa in accordance with US/NATO strategic interests, thereby weakening Chinese influence in the continent and ensuring access to cheap resources for Western multi-national corporations.

The purpose of the electoral charade is to legitimize the break up of the country and the occupation by French and UN forces, thus preventing the Malian people from ever having a claim over their own lands and resources.  As a consequence, the country will be partitioned and Mali will become the new Somalia.


China’s ‘Combat Troops’ in Africa

From Foreign Policy:

For the second time in a little over a year, China has infantry on the ground in Africa, reflecting the Chinese military’s increasingly global presence.

395 peacekeepers from the People’s Liberation Army just arrived in the Saharan nation of Mali as part of the U.N. mission to help restore order there. Specifically, Beijing has sent engineering, medical and “guard” teams to the Malian capital of Bamako, according to the Chinese defense ministry. These troops are reportedly part of the PLA’s 16th Army, a formation comprised of infantry, armor and artillery divisions.

China traditionally sends thousands of engineering, medical and other support troops on U.N. missions each year. Of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, China is the largest manpower contributor to U.N. peacekeeping missions.

However, until very recently, China did not send infantry on U.N. missions. In fact, Beijing officially insists the soldiers in Mali aren’t combat troops, perhaps in order to maintain the idea that China doesn’t send official combat troops on peacekeeping missions.

Drones in Niger Reflect New U.S. Tack on Terrorism ~ NY Times

The New York Times

Nearly every day, and sometimes twice daily, an unarmed American drone soars skyward from a secluded military airfield here, starting a surveillance mission of 10 hours or more to track fighters affiliated with Al Qaeda and other militants in neighboring Mali.

The two MQ-9 Reapers that are based here stream live video and data from other sensors to American analysts working with French commanders, who say the aerial intelligence has been critical to their success over the past four months in driving jihadists from a vast desert refuge in northern Mali.

The drone base, established in February and staffed by about 120 members of the Air Force, is the latest indication of the priority Africa has become for the United States at a time when it is winding down its presence in Afghanistan and President Obama has set a goal of moving from a global war on terrorism toward a more targeted effort. It is part of a new model for counterterrorism, a strategy designed to help local forces — and in this case a European ally — fight militants so American troops do not have to.


China To Send Combat Troops To Mali ~

chinese army in formationby Richard Sisk

Beijing has used the occasion of President Obama’s visit to sub-Saharan Africa to announce that it will for the first time deploy combat troops on an overseas peacekeeping mission, contributing soldiers to the United Nations force being assembled for Mali.

“We will send comprehensive security forces to Mali for the first time” Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, said in a speech at a security forum in Beijing on Wednesday, the Financial Times reported.

The expected dispatch of about 500 Peoples Liberation Army combat troops would mark a major shift in policy for China, which has previously limited its peacekeeping contributions to engineers, medical and aid personnel. China currently has about 1,900 troops involved in UN missions, the most of any country on the Security Council.