UNAC Statement on Mali & the Rapidly Increasing U.S. Military Intervention in Africa
On Jan. 11, 2013, the first of several thousand French troops landed in the Republic of Mali and, with U.S. logistical and intelligence support, began forcing what the U.S. media calls “Islamist extremists” out of cities and towns they had occupied in an attempt to take over the West African country. With the support of other NATO members like Britain, Canada, Italy and Denmark, and backed up by soldiers from African countries, the French are now pursuing the “extremists” in the forbidding mountains of northern Mali. The plan is to have the French soon entirely replaced by African forces, who would then come under the command of the United Nations, which the U.S. controls.
U.S. expands its military intervention in Africa
On Christmas Day 2012, when few people were paying attention to the news, the Associated Press reported the Obama administration had decided to send some 3,500 U.S. troops early in 2013 into as many as 35 of Africa's 54 countries, part of an intensifying Pentagon effort to train countries to battle “extremists” and to “give the United States a ready and trained force to dispatch to Africa if crises requiring the U.S. military emerge.”
The deployment is a significant escalation of what has been a steadily increasing introduction of U.S. forces into the formerly colonized continent. Over the past few decades, the U.S. has devoted more and more attention to Africa, both because of its vast natural resources, consumer and government markets and historically cheap labor, and because of the increasingly fierce competition between the U.S. and China for these resources and for political influence with African countries.
In June 2005, the U.S. launched its five-year Trans-Saharan Counter Terrorism Partnership, focusing on the Sahel and Maghreb regions of West Africa, which includes Mali. That same year, U.S. Special Forces held the first of a series of training operations in Mali and its neighbors Algeria, Senegal, Mauritania and Niger, as well as the north-central country of Chad. These now semi-annual exercises, known as Flintlocks, are ostensibly designed to train African forces to combat terrorism, but they also allow U.S. forces to become familiar with the countries' people and terrain.
The umbrella U.S. Africa Command, or AFRICOM, began its initial operations in 2007, officially becoming an independent command a year later. AFRICOM, one of the Defense Department's six geographic combatant commands, is responsible for military relations with African nations, the African Union and African regional security organizations. (From AFRICOM's website.) However, its operational command center is still in Stuttgardt, Germany, because no African country has yet agreed to host it.
By early October 2010, “the U.S. military had more than 1,700 troops deployed in sub-Saharan Africa,” mostly stationed in the small East African country of Djibouti, but with “at least a small presence in 33 different nations in sub-Saharan Africa.” (CNN, Oct. 11, 2011)
In the fall of 2011, the U.S. sent about 100 U.S. troops “to help hunt down the leaders of the notoriously violent Lord's Resistance Army in and around Uganda” according to the same CNN report, which stated that the Pentagon also was “sending equipment to Central African armed forces and training a Democratic Republic of Congo light infantry battalion deployed in that country's northeast” and that AFRICOM was “exploring ways to support the military of South Sudan.”
In February 2012, there was Atlas Accord 12, an “annual-joint-aerial-delivery exercise,” which “brings together U.S. Army personnel with militaries in Africa to enhance air drop capabilities and ensure effective delivery of military resupply materials and humanitarian aid.” (AFRICOM website, Feb. 10, 2012.) This took place while rebellion was unfolding in northern Mali.
The arguments supporting the deployments are always the same: the presence of “Islamists” or other “extremists” in countries suffering from a lack of financial resources, unstable governments and internal strife – all of which, where they exist, can be traced to the legacy of Western colonialism and neocolonialism.
U.S. intervention in Mali
One country has emerged as a particular focus of interest for the U.S. military: the West African Republic of Mali.
Early in 2012, long-simmering grievances of various ethnic groups in northern Mali erupted in a resumption of an off-and-on-again armed struggle for independence that dates back to the French colonial period. Joining the rebellion were hundreds of members of the Tuareg group who had returned to Mali from Libya after the fall of the Libyan government the previous October to U.S.-backed “rebels.” Many of the Tuaregs had been employed by the Libyan government as soldiers and returned with their weapons.
On April 6, 2012, the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, or MNLA, a military-political force representing the Tuaregs, declared the northern half of the country to be a new, independent nation.
Also coming into the country were what the U.S. described as large numbers of Arab fighters who identified with forces such as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its spin-off, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO). Their goal was to take control of all of Mali, imposing a severe interpretation of Sharia law. These well-armed forces blocked with the Mali-based Ansar Dine (“Defenders of the Faith”) to push aside the MNLA and take control of the rebellion. Hundreds of thousands of Malians fled their northern towns to find refuge in southern Mali or in neighboring countries, resulting in a huge humanitarian crisis.
In March 2012, a group of mid-level Malian officers and rank-and-file soldiers, angered by the government's inability to effectively combat the rebels, staged a coup, ousting the democratically elected president, Amadou Toumani Toure, and contributing to a further deterioration of the military situation.
Prior to the coup, AFRICOM had established training programs and joint operations with the Malian army. The presence of the outside forces now gave the U.S. an excuse to try and orchestrate a regional military intervention, supposedly to prevent northern Mali from becoming a haven for terrorists. The vehicle for the intervention would be the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, a 15-nation regional political and military alliance formed in 1975 over which the U.S. exerts a great deal of influence. “We have sent military planners to [ECOWAS] to assist with the continued development and refinement of the plans for international intervention,” said Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary for African Affairs on Dec. 5. The ECOWAS intervention, with the blessing of the United Nations, was to have taken place in September 2013. Meanwhile, the U.S. and France, the former colonial power, began sending spy drones over northern Mali to identify targets for bombing missions.
It's hard not to see the U.S. strategy as anything other than a set-up. The U.S. has known for years that Al-Qaeda-type groups were developing or infiltrating into northern Mali. It knew the Malian military was riven with rivalries and corruption. It knew the Malian government was so weak that it had to rely on Western NGOs to deliver many of what normally would be government services to its people. And it knew that, because of all this, the Malian government eventually would have to ask for outside military assistance to survive.
The only real question was, when?
In January 2013, the “Islamist” forces apparently decided not to wait for an ECOWAS invasion. They moved southward, taking over the central town of Konna and threatening nearby Sevare, site of a strategic airbase. Left unchecked, they may have crossed the Niger River and moved on the country's capital, Bamako. Acting President Dioncounda Traoré – an unelected leader put in office by the coup officers – asked for an intervention by France, which had the only viable military force in the region.
Why would the U.S. be so interested in Mali, one of the poorest countries in the world?
Two reasons: oil, and the country's critical geo-political importance.
It has long been suspected that the northeastern region of Mali that borders Algeria potentially holds vast oil and gas reserves. The recent confirmation of oil reserves near Tessalit, a small Malian oasis town about 40 miles from the Algerian border, has fed Western hunger for control of that area. Mali is also rich in gold and uranium, among other natural resources.
But the more important reason for the intensifying U.S. interest is geo-political.
Mali, the size of Texas and California combined, is the largest country in West Africa and borders no less than seven other countries: Algeria, Niger, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea, Senegal and Mauritania. Controlling Mali would give the U.S. an important hub from which to influence regional developments.
This has been Washington's strategy for the Continent as a whole: to use economic aid and military training to develop close relationships with key governments and their militaries – such as Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda – so the U.S. can use them as a network of regional proxies to control all of Africa. This was the strategy that England and France used to control the Middle East after World War I, as well as the one England used with such success in India during that country's colonial period.
Without a doubt, Africa has many problems – poverty, insufficient infrastructure, AIDS, high infant mortality rates and short life expectancies. Such is the legacy of the forced removal and enslavement of tens of millions of its most productive people, as well as the many years of brutal and exploitative Western colonization and neocolonialization.
But Africa also is a continent of vast natural resources: oil, gold, diamonds, uranium, natural gas, timber and agriculture. There is no reason why Africans cannot develop these resources to not only meet their own needs but to be in a position to help other impoverished peoples. But first they must have something they lost hundreds of years ago: control over their continent's riches.
Responsibility of antiwar movement
The U.S. anti-war movement, which has fought so hard to oppose U.S. intervention in the Middle East and other regions of the world, must take up the long-overdue struggle to oppose U.S. intervention in Africa. We must demand the dismantling of AFRICOM. We must oppose any U.S. or European-led intervention in Mali. We must call for the withdrawal of all Western troops from the Continent. We must demand Western reparations for the unimaginable damage wrought on Africa and Africans by centuries of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, colonialism and neocolonialism.
To do any less would be to abandon our international responsibilities and our commitment to help win a just and peaceful world for all.
U.S., France & NATO Out of Mali!
U.S. Out of Africa! Shut Down AFRICOM!
Reparations for Centuries of Exploitation!
Money for Jobs & Education, Not for Wars & Occupations!