Paris – Within the next few days, France will have deployed some 2,500 troops to Mali. That’s as large a commitment as France made to what became a profoundly unpopular war in Afghanistan. No one knows how long the troops will be there, but the price tag will surely be tens if not hundreds of millions [or billions rather] of Euros, this to born by a French economy already in woeful shape.
The danger is that President Francois Holland and the French state, may shortly find themselves in the disastrous situation of the hapless coyote in the cartoon, Roadrunner, so intent on chasing his prey that he scurries right over a cliff and suddenly finds himself flailing in mid air, about to plunge to the desert below.
President Holland said the menace of a radical Islamic takeover was so imminent that he had no choice but to intervene—to save not just Mali, but all of Western Africa, and, the French now imply, Europe as well.
Strange thing though, despite the supposed urgency of the situation, France has had precious little luck so far in convincing its European partners to contribute their own troops to the intervention. Indeed, the last thing those countries want, after the traumatic experience of Iraq, Libya and the Afghan crusade, is to become enmeshed in what risks to be an open-ended conflict, on behalf of an unelected Malian government, against a vague assortment of ethnic rebels and jihadis in the desert wilds of North Africa. Thus, so far there have been a lot of pats on the back from France’s allies, offers of logistic support, intelligence, a few troop transports, drones, but that’s it.
“You say, ‘We’ll give you nurses and you go get yourselves killed,’” said French deputy Daniel Cohn-Bendit, railing at his fellow deputies in the European Parliament. “We [Europe] will only be credible if French soldiers are not the only ones getting killed.”
Actually, it was surprising to learn that France, still considered a major military power, doesn’t have the capability to transport a couple of thousand troops and their equipment to North Africa. France even had to rely on an offer from the Italians for tankers to handle in-flight refueling of French fighter jets.
Despite the tepid response from France’s allies, French government spokesman are still reassuring the public that French troops are not going to play the major combat role in the coming ground battles.
The fact is, that even if they wanted to play a major role, there are nowhere near enough French boots on the ground. It’s instructive to speculate on France’s combat strength, using what is known as the “tooth to tail” ratio, that is, the number of support troops in the rear needed to support each combat soldier at the front. For the U.S. military that ratio is about three to one. If we use the same figure for France, that means that out of 2500 French troops deployed to Mali, probably about 600-700—a thousand at best–would actually see front-line combat.
And Mali, don’t forget, is twice the size of France, or Afghanistan or Texas.
The actual down-and-dirty fighting, we are told, is to be done by troops from West Africa, some of whom have finally begun arriving in Mali. But all the reports about those contingents indicate a woeful lack of equipment, morale, and training, particularly in being able to fight a guerrilla war in the desert reaches of the Sahel.
After months of discussion, this week—in the wake of the hostage crisis in Algeria– France’s European allies finally agreed to dispatch 250 troops to help train the Malian army and perhaps other African units. But—unless the fallout from the Algerian disaster changes things–it’s already determined that those European trainers are to be non- combatants. They will not even be advising the Malian soldiers in battle. As one senior EU official made very clear. “We will not go north. We will stay in the training areas,”
By the way, one thing I can never figure out—whether it be Mali or Afghanistan–we‘re always hearing about how the forces being backed by the U.S. and its allies, like France in this case, invariably seem to be poorly trained and equipped and demoralized, despite hundreds of millions of dollars and years of training. [Think Afghanistan where only one out of 23 battalions is able to function independently of U.S. support.]
Meanwhile, the ragtag rebels they’re combating, usually from those same third world countries, like the Taliban in Afghanistan or the Tuareg in Mali are portrayed as dedicated, fierce, battle-hardened warriors, who wreak havoc on their opponents with often the most primitive improvised weapons or suicide bombs. Reports are that it will take many weeks, probably months, before the various African troops will be ready to do any serious fighting. And there are other problems to deal with apart from training and equipment: the danger, for instance, of unleashing Christian soldiers from Nigeria to suppress Islamic rebels in Northern Mali.
Ironically, as I’ve pointed out in a previous blog, while France’s allies are hanging back, the Chinese, who have huge economic interests and construction projects underway in every one of Mali’s neighbors, continue to go about their business, apparently still content to leave the police work to France and Europe and the West African states.
The French, for the record, insist that the groups they are battling in Mali –and now in Algeria–are all lumped together as “terrorists”, linked to al-Qaeda. There is no recognition of the fact that most of the different rebel groups, are mostly driven by strong ethnic and nationalist aspirations, as much as by religion–not that different perhaps, from the Taliban in Afghanistan.
In that case, it’s obvious that the only way this conflict will ultimately be settled is not by somehow eradicating the “terrorists”, but by sitting down to negotiate a deal, as will probably be the case in Afghanistan.
In Mali, such a deal may not be that different from the kind of settlement that was offered the Tuareg years ago after a series of rebellions, but which the Malian government ultimately reneged on.
So, how do the French feel about this?
Estimates are that anywhere from 400,000 to one million French took to the streets of Paris last weekend. A counter-protest, expected to draw hundreds of thousands of other militant French, is now being organized. Tempers are flaring.
What’s the issue?
Well, actually, no. It’s whether the French government should legalize gay marriage.
As for the intervention in Mali, at first the French, from all ends of the political spectrum, seemed to be solidly behind their government and their fighting men.
That consensus is already unraveling, and it’s certain that as the intervention drags on, the casualties and costs mount, and France’s European allies still drag their heels, the patriotic surge will flag
Which bring us back to the Roadrunner. At some point the French may suddenly look down to find that their president has taken them over a precipice, and they’re suspended there, gazing in horror at the chasm below.
- France Formally Requests US Military Aid for Mali Invasion (economicpolicyjournal.com)
British Prime Minister David Cameron called off his long-awaited speech on the relations with the European Union on Friday to deal with the hostage-taking in Algeria as his country actively assisted France in its military intervention in Algeria’s neighbor Mali.
Cameron was outraged by, what he described in an address to the MPs on Thursday, as the Algerian government’s “all guns blazing” tactic against the “terrorist” kidnappers at BP’s In Amenas gas plant because it could endanger British and other western lives.
“I won’t hide, of course I was… we were disappointed not to be informed of the assault in advance,” Cameron told the MPs.
In effect, Cameron was telling Algeria that they are not supposed to be fighting “terrorists” at the cost of British lives while he and his French allies were – and are — exactly killing innocent Malians for the alleged ‘greater good’ they tend to name fighting terrorism.
There are no precise figures on the number of Malian civilians killed in the French Britain-assisted airstrikes near the country’s borders with Algeria but Human Rights Watch said on the second day of the attacks last Sunday that 10 civilians including three children, were killed during airstrikes.
The situation has also been grave enough for international organizations to call for restraint.
“Forces involved in armed attacks should avoid indiscriminate shelling at all costs, and do their utmost to prevent civilian casualties,” said Paule Rigaud, Amnesty International’s Africa deputy director.
However, there has been no such restr aint to the point that United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Melissa Fleming warned on Friday “that in the near future there could be up to 300,000 people additionally displaced inside Mali, and over 400,000 additionally displaced in the neighboring countries” many of them escaping indiscriminate attacks on Malian rebels and civilians.
Nor has Cameron advised French president Francois Hollande to hold back attacks to avoid collateral damage to women and children probably because their skins are not as white as the British hostages in Algeria.
This comes as Hollande said on Friday that the attack and hostage crisis in the remote desert gas plant show the French military intervention in Mali was justified.
However, one comes to think that matters are exactly the other way round, especially after the hostage-takers said their move was in response to the French intervention in Mali.
One should also note a report by Amnesty International on brutality on the part of the ally of Britain and France, the Malian government, against the Tuareg ethnic minority where rebels are rooted.
When the conflict originally exploded, Tuaregs were arrested, tortured, bombed and killed by the security forces, “apparently only on ethnic grounds”, Amnesty said in a report on December 21.
Meanwhile, last July, 80 inmates arrested by the Malian army were stripped to their underwear, jammed into a 5 sqm cell and cigarettes were burnt into their bodies.
Also, back in September 2012, 16 Muslim clerics were rounded up at a checkpoint and summarily executed by the Malian army, which is now Britain’s ally.
Indeed, Britain could apparently pat itself on the back for setting the stage for the kidnapping of its own nationals in Algeria by helping the Malian government.
Britain should also answer whether the “botched” Algerian operation to free hundreds of hostages that left a few western hostages killed would have been also botched if the hostages were not white westerners, or if the scenario was one of British forces and its allies pounding Malian targets with huge civilians casualties on people with darker skins.
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-border 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 war fighting 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 hub 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, to its north.
Mali is Africa’s third largest producer of gold after South Africa and Ghana. It possesses sizable 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 military forces 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.
- Washington is Conquering Africa using France, Human Rights, Terrorism, and the National Endowment for Democracy (libyaagainstsuperpowermedia.com)