The US has declared “sanctions” on four alleged “ambassadors” of the Lebanese Islamic resistance group Hezbollah, citing the movement’s role in pushing back foreign-backed insurgents in Syria as well as its rising influence in West Africa.
The US Treasury Department announced Tuesday that it was imposing what appear to be vague sanctions against the four Lebanese individuals whom it claims are “fundraising and recruiting for Hezbollah” in efforts to expand its influence in West Africa, as well as South America and Middle East, The Los Angeles Times reports Wednesday.
Citing US officials, the report states the four men were acting as Hezbollah “ambassadors” in Sierra Leone, Senegal, Ivory Coast and Gambia.
The daily further quotes US Treasury officials as underlining “the alarming reach of Hezbollah’s activities,” pointing to the Islamic movement’s “growing military role” in the recent triumph of the Syrian Army over foreign-sponsored militant gangs that have waged a destructive war on the country in largely US-led attempts to overthrow the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
The mostly symbolic sanctions, according to the report, “grew out of an investigation of what Treasury said are Hezbollah’s expanding activities abroad, including in South America, the Middle East and Africa.”
The sanctions would supposedly “freeze any assets” the four men “may have in the United States and sever them from any contact with the US financial system.”
However, it is not even clear if and how much the Lebanese individuals, identified as Ali Ibrahim Watfa, Abbas Loutfe Jawaz, Ali Achmad Chehade and Hicham Nmer Khanafer, have under the control of American financial institutions.
The US government has in the past repeatedly “imposed” meaningless sanctions, in the form of freezing funds, against a number of Iranian individuals and officials that have absolutely no ties or holdings in the US or American financial institutions.
The development comes as the American government and some of its allies, including the Saudi Kingdom, have protested the supportive role of Hezbollah forces behind the Syrian Army to flush out mostly al-Qaeda-linked armed gangs that have terrorized the nation with massive weapons supplied to them through Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon by mostly Persian Gulf Arab kingdoms, with US and European blessings.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has suggested the creation of a peacekeeping force in Mali that would include West African troops already operating in the country. He also said that a “parallel force” must be built to confront Islamist threats.
“Given the anticipated level and nature of the residual threat, there would be a fundamental requirement for a parallel force to operate in Mali alongside the UN mission in order to conduct major combat and counter-terrorism operations,” Ban wrote in his report on Mali.
Such a force could be built on the French troops already active in Mali, some diplomats say.
Once the African nations’ soldiers become a UN peacekeeping force, most of their troops and police would operate in northern Mali, while there would be a “light presence” based in the country’s capital, Bamako, Ban suggested.
“The force would operate under robust rules of engagement, with a mandate to use all necessary means to address threats to the implementation of its mandate, which would include protection of civilians,” he said.
The parallel force proposed by Ban Ki-moon would specifically target Islamist extremists, and could be based in Mali or elsewhere in West Africa. Diplomats expressed hope that the UN Security Council will vote on the peacekeeping proposal in mid-April.
France launched its military intervention in Mali in January to combat Islamist groups that had taken over the north of the country a year ago. The French army succeeded in driving the Islamists out Mali’s main northern cities and into desert and mountain hideouts. Still, Ban’s report said Mali suffered from a “crisis of governance” marked by “endemic corruption,” and a lack of state authority.
The 11,200 African troops converted into peacekeepers could only cover the main towns “assessed to be at highest risk,” Ban explained. The bulk of the contingent would come from a West African force known as AFISMA (African-led International Support Mission to Mali), comprised of armed forces from many African nations and already operational in Mali.
France said it would start withdrawing 4,000 of its troops in late April as part of a handover to the UN-backed African force. French President Francois Hollande has repeatedly vowed that the troops will remain in the region only until a legitimate government can take over.
The Mali intervention has cost France more than 100 million euros so far.
French officials say the country’s forces will remain in Mali until at least July amid reports of a serious humanitarian crisis in the northern areas of the country caused by the French-led war in the West African nation.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, made the announcement on Thursday, the Associated Press reported.
Earlier this week, an unnamed French diplomat also said that it is unlikely that “the French presence will be over in six months.”
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on February 6 that the country would begin the withdrawal of its troops from Mali in March.
“We will continue to act in the north… I think that from March, if everything goes according to plan, the number of French troops should decrease,” Fabius said.
France launched its war on Mali on January 11 under the pretext of halting the advance of fighters in the country. The war has left thousands of Malians homeless.
The French-led war in Mali has also displaced thousands of people, who now live in deplorable conditions.
On February 1, Amnesty International said “serious human rights breaches” — including the killing of children — were occurring in the French war in Mali.
The rights organization said there was “evidence that at least five civilians, including three children, were killed in an airstrike” carried out by French forces against the local fighters.
A US general nominated to lead the American military’s Africa Command has called for a 15-fold surge in US spying missions in Africa amid reports of Pentagon’s plans to further expand its growing military presence in the continent.
Army General David Rodriguez estimated in a written statement submitted to the US Senate Arms Services Committee during his confirmation hearing on Thursday that the American military needs to boost its “intelligence-gathering and spying missions in Africa by nearly 15-fold,” The Washington Post reports Friday.
“I believe additional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities are necessary to protect American interests and assist our close allies and partners,” said the four-star general who has previously commanded US-led intervention forces in Panama, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The recent crises in North Africa demonstrate the volatility of the African security environment,” he added.
Rodrigues further emphasized during the hearing that Africa Command requires additional drones, other spying aircraft and more satellite imagery, adding that the US command currently gets only half of its “stated need” for North Africa and just seven percent of its total “requirements” for the entire continent, the report says.
The surging US military involvement in Africa has emerged despite earlier instructions by the Obama administration for the Pentagon to “pivot its forces and reorient its strategy toward fast-growing Asia,” the daily underlines.
The development comes as the American military has intervened over the past two years in internal conflicts in African nations of Somalia, Libya and Mali, as well as central Africa.
This is while the US Air Force is building its fourth assassination and spying drone base in the poor African state of Niger as American Navy warships are expanding their missions along the coastlines of East and West Africa, according to the report.
Despite insistence by US military authorities that they did not have plans to establish bases or move troops to Africa when they created the Africa Command in 2007, the Pentagon has since built a network of “staging bases,” including assassination drone facilities in Ethiopia and the Seychelles, and “a forward operating base for special operations forces in Kenya,” the report notes.
It further adds that the Pentagon has also expanded its military operations and construction at “the only permanent US base on the continent, Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, which serves as a hub for ‘counterterrorism missions’ in Somalia and Yemen.”
Now, the daily emphasizes, there is a growing pressure to add even more bases in North and West Africa as the US military is set to build an assassination drone base in the West African country of Niger, which borders Mali, Libya and Nigeria, all nations that the Obama administration claims are threatened by an increasing influx of ‘al-Qaeda-linked’ Muslim militants.
The US Africa Command has been based in Stuttgart, Germany since it was established in 2007. Efforts to move the headquarters to an African country faced hurdles as numerous nations “expressed concern that the Pentagon was seeking to militarize US policy or infringe on their sovereignty,” according to the report.
- At Pentagon, ‘pivot to Asia’ becomes ‘shift to Africa’ (stripes.com)
- US plans military war games with African nations in ‘urgent’ mission (ethiotribune.net)
The speed and extent with which French warplanes have been deployed over the weekend in the West African country, Mali, point to a well-honed plan for intervention by the former colonial power.
Indeed, such is the careful choreography of this salient military development that one could say that the French have finally given themselves a green light to execute a plan they had been pushing over several months. That plan is nothing less than the neocolonial re-conquest of its former colony in the strategically important West African region.
Within hours of the Malian government requesting military support to counter an advance by rebels from the northern territory, French warplanes began carrying out air strikes on Friday. The attack sorties have reportedly been conducted for at least three consecutive days. Media reports said that French Mirage and Rafale fighter jets had struck across a wide belt of the remote Sahelian country, from Gao and Kidal in the northeast, near the border with Algeria, to the western town of Lere, close to Mauritania.
The warplanes were dispatched from France and also reportedly from Chad. The French government claimed that it had been granted over-flight permission by Algeria. Both North African neighboring countries are also former French colonies.
The air strikes by the French jets on at least six widely dispersed target areas within Mali cover an operational distance of nearly 2,000 kilometers, from east to west. This level of co-ordination indicates several weeks of planning and belies the appearance that the French government was responding in an impromptu fashion to a sudden call for assistance from the Paris-aligned Malian authorities.
In addition, over the weekend some 500 French troops arrived in the southern Malian capital of Bamako and the strategic town of Mopti, which is situated near the rebel-held northern territory.
The dramatic French intervention has all the hallmarks of a meticulous plan that was on a hair-trigger for action. The taking over by rebels last Thursday of the town of Konna, 45 kilometers from Mopti, near the de facto north-south frontier, and the subsequent alarm call from the Malian government in Bamako can therefore be seen as merely a green light for the detailed French plan to swing into action.
Furthermore, the French government has received swift support from other European countries and the United States. Britain has sent RAF CI7 cargo planes from a base in East England to Paris in order to help with French supply of troops, helicopters, trucks other heavy equipment. Washington has said it will provide logistics and communications. Both American and French surveillance drones have been operational in Mali and adjacent countries for months now.
France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was quick to hail the weekend air strikes a success in halting Malian “terrorists.” Fabius said the French military involvement would be for a “matter of weeks.” However, the extensive mobilization of troops and warplanes and the geopolitical backdrop to the development suggest otherwise. Perhaps mindful of this, Fabius was keen to emphasize that the Mali intervention would not turn out to be “another Afghanistan.”
Officially, Paris, London and Washington have up to now been pushing for an African-led intervention force to take the military lead in assisting the Malian government to quash a separatist rebellion in the northern half of the country. The northern region was taken over last April by Tuareg rebels in league with Islamist militia belonging to Ansar Dine and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa. The rebels have managed to consolidate their control over the vast and largely desert region around the main city of Timbuktu. Northern Mali covers an area the size of France and is sparsely populated with less than two million people.
West African states, including Nigeria, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Benin and Niger, are charged with assembling an intervention force at the behest of the Western powers. Last month, the United Nations Security Council gave final approval for the West African military mission to shore up the shaky government that is based in Bamako in the far south of the country, thousands of kilometers from the upper northern region.
Following the Security Council vote, diplomats at the UN and in West African capitals were talking about the combined African mission of some 3,500 troops being deployed much later this year, in September at the earliest. This was a view held by Romano Prodi, the UN’s top envoy to Mali, which was reported only days before the French military intervention.
The abrupt side-stepping of the African forces points up the real agenda of the Western powers and France in particular. What we are seeing now, with the rapid, large-scale French deployment, is the true neocolonial nature of this agenda. All the previous talk by Paris, London and Washington on the importance of intervention having “an African face” can be seen as cynical cover for direct Western action.
Only three months ago, President Francois Hollande vowed to French media that there would be “no French boots on the ground” in Mali. Evidently, official calculations have changed.
France and its Western allies have been assiduously taking up the international security threat allegedly posed by the rebels in Mali. Much is being made of alleged links between the Islamist militants and Al Qaeda in the Maghreb. President Hollande has repeatedly warned that French and European security is at risk if the rebels in Mali strengthen their control.
A spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron said at the weekend: “Both leaders [Cameron and Hollande] agreed that the situation in Mali poses a real threat to international security given the terrorist activity there.”
American politicians, military chiefs and media have also been waxing lyrical for months on how Mali represents the globe’s new “terror central” and that Western governments must act decisively to defeat the danger.
However, the precise nature of this “Islamist threat” from Mali is never spelled out or evidenced. We are expected to accept the word of Paris, London and Washington – the rogue states that have and are conducting illegal wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.
What we do know, however, is that the half century post-colonial borders of Mali are an alien imposition on nomadic peoples in the northern region – cultures that date backed thousands of years. Their rebellion against a remote and up to now indifferent colonialist-appointed administration in Bamako is probably a just cause. The French and its Western allies are therefore maligning an internal dispute within Mali with another specious “war on terror” narrative and in that way these powers are giving themselves a mandate to meddle in that country.
France being the former colonial master and with decades of covert military assets in the region is the “natural” choice among the Western powers to lead a neo-imperialist adventure in this strategically important region.
Mali has abundant riches in natural resources of metals and minerals. It is a major source of gold and uranium, as well as iron, copper, tin and manganese, and also versatile minerals such as phosphates, salt and limestone.
Moreover, the West Africa region has awesome potential for agriculture and oil. The Gulf of Guinea off Ghana and Nigeria is earmarked to become a leading oil and gas supply region to world markets in the coming years.
Military intervention by France and the other Western powers in Mali – under the guise of “defeating terrorism” – is a bridgehead for Western capital and corporations, not only into a resource-rich country, but into a large chunk of the entire African continent. In 2011, NATO’s bombardment of Libya and French subversion of elections in Cote D’Ivoire marked a new beginning of Western neo-imperialism in Africa.
The US is looking into supporting French military intervention in its former African colony of Mali, by offering to provide “surveillance drones” as it has already declared its backing of moves against Malian militants.
US commanders were further considering other options such as “providing intelligence and aerial refueling tankers” as well as “logistical backup and boosting intelligence sharing,” involving its surveillance drones, AFP reported Friday, quoting an unnamed US official that spoke on condition of anonymity.
The report also quotes its anonymous source as saying that senior American officials held talks with their French counterparts as well as authorities from other European allies in Paris on “an action plan” against militants controlling a northern portion of the Muslim country.
The US military holds a network of major air bases in Italy, Spain and other western European countries and could back the French military intervention by providing it with refueling tankers and other logistical assistance.
Paris-backed Malian government forces, the report says, began a military offensive against militants that have seized control of the north of the West African states with aerial support from French war planes.
French President Francois Hollande has confirmed his country’s military intervention against what he has described as ‘al-Qaeda-linked radicals’ in Mali.
Previously, the US had raised alarms about the militants in Mali, blaming them for involvement in an attack against the American Consulate in Benghazi, Libya that led to the killing of its ambassador and three CIA operatives in the neighboring country.
The US National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor is also cited in the report as vowing support for French objectives in the West African country.
“We have noted that the government of Mali has asked for support, and we share the French goal of denying terrorists a safe haven in the region,” he is quoted as saying in the report.
Hollande, meanwhile, has insisted that France’s military intervention in Mali would continue “for as long as is necessary.”
- French troops begin military intervention in Mali: Hollande (alethonews.wordpress.com)
It’s only December, but it looks like the Pentagon has all planned out how they’ll spend a good part of 2013. US officials now claim that the Defense Department is busy preparing a military operation in the nation of Mali.
United States officials with knowledge of the matter tell the Washington Post that the Department of Defense and the US State Department will assist next year in a mission to overthrow Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qaeda who took under control a significant part of Mali, a small West African country that is still picking itself up after a coup this past March.
Earlier this year, military officers displaced the administration of then-President Amandou Toumani Toure, claiming that he was reluctant in addressing the extremist issue himself. However since then the military junta failed to improve security in the country and retake control of the northern part of Mali captured by the Islamists. Now the US is claiming that it’s ready to help the military rulers, even though it may be a clear violation of American laws: the Pentagon cannot assist first-hand with people responsible for ousting a democratically elected leader. That doesn’t mean, however, that Washington won’t find a way to send support overseas.
According to testimonies from officials speaking to the Post, both the Pentagon and State Department will assist opposition to the terrorists by training, equipping and transporting troops to tackle what Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Delaware) has called “the largest territory controlled by Islamic extremists in the world.”
Speaking on the record, though, the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary for Africa tells the paper that US influence might not end there.
“There’s plenty of other forms of information and intelligence that are circulating that give us enough insight for planning purposes,” the Defense Department’s Amanda J. Dory tells the Post this week. According to the paper, Dory also floated the possibility of US warplanes being deployed to North Arica to provide troops there with aerial protection.
“We definitely don’t know how that would work out,” Dory says.
In advance of next year’s expected war, the State Department and the Treasury announced this week that they have blacklisted two Mali extremist groups, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, as terrorists officially in the eyes of Uncle Sam. The Associated Press reports that doing such will make any of those groups’ members ineligible to receive assistance from the US or conduct business, the start of crippling sanctions expected to continue until eventual military intervention.
Meanwhile, though, the wheels are indeed in motion in terms of starting to send US support towards Mali. On Wednesday, Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary for African Affairs under US President Barack Obama, said “We have sent military planners to [the Economic Community of West African States] to assist with the continued development and refinement of the plans for international intervention.”
Carson acknowledged that US assistance will be needed in order to overthrow al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, but added, “it must be African-led; it must be Malian-led.”
Testifying to Congress, Rep. Dory adds that AQIM and its affiliates “took over administration of northern cities and began imposing a harsh version of Sharia law” in Mali. “This expanded safe haven and control of territory allows al-Qaeda and affiliates to recruit supporters more easily and to export extremism.”
- Pentagon considering Air Force support for intervention in Mali (alethonews.wordpress.com)
The Obama administration hasn’t ruled out having the Air Force play a lead role in transporting troops and equipment for an African-led intervention to dislodge militant Islamists in Mali, the Pentagon’s top Africa official said Wednesday.
The United Nations Security Council is weighing whether to approve a West African force of about 3,300 troops to take over the desert expanses of the country’s northern half, which broke away following a March coup. Mali’s neighbors and western countries are worried that the Texas-sized area has become the world’s largest safe haven for militant Islamists, but U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has raised questions about the plan’s viability, and the Obama administration favors a cautious approach.
“The logistical planning is still nascent,” the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary for Africa, Amanda Dory, told reporters in a short hallway interview after testifying at a Senate hearing on Mali.
“Part of it is related to maneuver and how the force would actually move, and that defines what the logistics would need to be. At this point we haven’t ruled out — or in — what it is that the [Department of Defense] and [U.S. government] support would be.”
Mali and its neighbors oppose any intervention by non-African troops. The United States, however, is involved in advising the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS), which is putting the intervention force together.
Dory said the Pentagon is envisioning training, equipping, advising and supporting the international military force, “but whether it would entail logistics or not, we haven’t determined yet.” … Full article
Within the span of two weeks Mali experienced a military coup followed by a declaration of independence by the Tuareg in the north, leaving regional and international powers divided over who to support.
Tuareg revolutionaries claimed they had complete control of north Mali from Kidal to Gao last week, including the capital of their historical homeland Azawad and Timbuktu.
The general secretary of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), Bilal Ag Acherif, announced the creation of the “independent state of Azawad” yesterday.
The president of its politburo Mahmoud Ag Ali spoke to Al-Akhbar after they had captured the lands populated by a majority of Tuareg and Arabs in the north on Thursday.
He said that “the announcement of the independent state of Azawad is ready. Its capital will be the historical city of Timbuktu that celebrated its third millennium two years ago.”
He added that “the Tuareg revolutionaries will put an end to military operations after the liberation of the north is complete.” They will then focus on “establishing and building the state.”
He refuted claims in the Western media that the Tuareg rebels intend to continue their military campaign, in conjunction with the Sahara branch of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic West, until the fall of the capital Bamako.
The independence announcement surprised many observers and became an obvious embarrassment to international and regional powers.
The governments of West Africa are still trying to decide how to deal with the military junta in the country that toppled the country’s president in March.
Should the military rebels be pressured to return to their barracks and hand over power to the “legitimate” government, or should they be given more time and indirect support in order to recapture the areas held by the Tuareg revolutionaries?
On the surface there seems to be a consensus among the “international community” to reject the announcement of Azawad independence.
The US, for example, has already announced its categorical rejection of the separatists’ demands.
The French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said that the declaration of independence is “null and of no value.”
For her part, EU High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton said that “the EU has made clear throughout the crisis that it respects the territorial integrity of Mali.”
African Union President Jean Ping expressed the bloc’s “total rejection” of the Tuareg declaration of a homeland in the north and condemned this announcement in a statement saying it was “null and of no value whatsoever.”
Nevertheless, negotiations between African and Western diplomats are heating up.
On one side of the debate over how to deal with the situation in Mali there is the majority of West African countries, in addition to Algeria, Niger, and Cote d’Ivoire, who are supported by the US. They favor the new regime in Mali, hoping that it can put an end to the Tuareg secession.
They want the new junta to sign on a “declaration of principles” for a return to constitutional legitimacy and hand power back to a civilian government immediately. At the same time, they want to negotiate with Tuareg activists to form a national unity government and give the north extensive autonomy.
On the other side, there are those who call for supporting the Tuareg separatists, on the condition that they commit to fighting Al-Qaeda and expel the militant Islamist group from territories under MNLA control.
They include Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, and Burkina Faso and are supported by a strong current in the French foreign ministry.
“Dealing with the current situation cannot only be through good intentions and a declaration of principles,” a French diplomat in Paris told Al-Akhbar on Friday.
“Until now, all Western and regional efforts have failed against Al-Qaeda’s activities on the African coast, although they only have 500 armed men,” he said.
The French diplomat also explained that “for years, Tuareg activists have been expressing opinions…they are the only power that can expel Al-Qaeda from their lands if they are given the necessary political and military support…But this option was always rejected by the regional powers, who fear that the Tuareg will exploit such support to arm themselves and call for an independent state.”
He added that, “after the declaration of independence, regional and international powers have two choices. They can support the independence of Azawad on the condition that the Tuareg fight and expel Al-Qaeda or they can stand against the independent state…The second choice will push the Tuareg activists to ally themselves with Al-Qaeda against foreign intervention.”
Western powers fear that any reconsideration of borders inherited from colonialism could set a precedent that would launch an “African Spring” of secessionist movements in neighboring countries such as Libya, Niger, Algeria, and others.
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)