UN Security Council and Pentagon back military solution amid claims of Islamists threats
Western imperialist states with the support of the United Nations Security Council are preparing for a full-scale military intervention in the West African state of Mali. Since March the country has been in a severe political crisis with the advent of a military coup and the effective partitioning of the north and south of the country.
France under the government of Francois Hollande has moved surveillance drones to West Africa and is engaging in secret talks with the United States officials in Paris. Mali, which was colonized by France in the 19th century, won its independence in 1960.
Although the French and the U.S. claim that any military involvement must be led by a regional African force, both Paris and Washington have strong ties with the security apparatus in Mali. Prior to the coup that toppled President Amadou Toumani Toure in March, the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) had established training programs and joint operations with the Malian army.
This planned intervention is being carried out under the guise of fighting al-Qaeda in North and West Africa. The Tuareg people represented by several organizations in northern Mali, have been at odds with the central government in Bamako in the south for many years.
In the aftermath of the U.S.-NATO engineered war of regime-change in Libya, many Tuaregs re-located back to northern Mali where they have had a presence for many centuries. The Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) is credited with leading the campaign for the seizure of several major cities in the north of the country earlier this year and the declaration of a separate state of Azawad.
The MNLA is viewed as a secular organization concerned with addressing grievances between the Tuareg and the central government. Other organizations of an Islamic orientation also have a formidable presence in northern Mali, and it is the existence of groups such as Ansar Dine, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and the Al-Qaeda of the Islamic Magreb (AQIM) that the imperialists are utilizing to craft a justification for an intervention and occupation.
Francois Heisbourg of the Foundation for Strategic Research, a Paris think tank, says of the situation in northern Mali that “This is actually a major threat—to French interests in the region, and to France itself. This is like Afghanistan in 1996. This is like when Bin laden found a place that was larger than France in which he could organize training camps, in which he could provide stable preparations for organizing far-flung terror attacks.” (Associated Press, October 22)
According to the Associated Press, “France has been turning more attention to the Sahel just as it is accelerating its pullout of combat troops from Afghanistan ahead of other NATO allies. A French defense official said on October 22 that France plans to move two surveillance drones to western Africa from Afghanistan by year-end, though he did not provide details.” (AP, October 22)
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson was involved in the talks in Paris designed to enhance intelligence gathering in Mali and throughout the Sahel region. During mid-October, the Security Council gave authorization for the establishment of a plan for military intervention.
The Security Council resolution passed on October 12 called for the deployment of 3,000 troops under the ostensible authority of the West African regional organization. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was given 45 days to put forward “detailed and actionable recommendations.”
African Regional Force With Imperialist Backing
A meeting on the Malian situation was held during the weekend of October 20-21 in Bamako. The meeting was attended by regional leaders from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the UN, the European Union and the recently installed African Union Commission Chair, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Dlamini-Zuma set the tone for the gathering by stating that “Africa cannot simply fold its arms while two-thirds of the Malian territory is under the control of armed, terrorist and criminal groups. In Mali and in the Sahel, as in other similar situations, success depends on close co-ordination of our efforts.” (skynews.com.au, October 20)
The African Union Commission Chair went on to stress that “The main challenge today is how to deal with the dangerous situation in the north of the country expeditiously. This is a threat we cannot afford to take lightly, and…the danger it poses extends far beyond the African continent. The sooner we deal with it, the better.” (defenceweb.co.za, October 22)
Both Malian Interim President Dioncounda Traore and Foreign Minister Tieman Hubert Coulibaly agreed that “We are not willing to organize elections while the north of the country is occupied. We were very clear with our partners.” (defenceweb.co.za, October 20)
Guinean President Alpha Conde asked “How are we supposed to negotiate with terrorists? We have no solution but to use force.” (defenceweb.co.za, October 20)
In Brussels on October 19, the EU pledged through a resolution to “speed up planning of a possible (EU) military operation to help reorganize and train the Malian defense forces. The EU will maintain the option to adopt targeted restrictive measures against those involved in the armed groups in northern Mali and those hindering the return to constitutional order.” (skynews.com.au, October 22)
France’s special envoy to the Sahel Jean Felix-Paganon told the international press during his visit to Mali that “we are at their disposal. In principle, the decision has been taken to respond to the needs of the Malian army in terms of what is necessary.” (telegraph.co.uk, October 22)
U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said on October 10 in relationship to Washington’s involvement in Mali that “we are in close consultation with the French on the situation in Mali, as we are with the ECOWAS countries, as we are with the interim authority in Mali.” In response to a question about military intervention, Nuland pointed out that “our support has been for a well-developed, well-thought-through, well-resourced ECOWAS effort and our understanding is that the French are also working with ECOWAS to help that plan and to bring it forward to the Security Council for support.” (U.S. State Department, October 10)
General Carter F. Ham, the Commander of AFRICOM said in a press briefing in Algeria on October 3 that “The best way the United States military can help is through training, exchange of ideas, working in partnership with the nations in the region. This involves, sometimes, conducting training exercises in the region with our African partners.” (AFRICOM, Stuttgart)
Reports of Influx of Islamist Fighters Denied by Tuaregs
The rationale for imminent military action in northern Mali is related to a wave of news articles claiming that more fighters from various Islamists groups have been pouring into the region. The Voice of America reported on October 22 that “Hundreds of additional Islamist fighters have deployed in northern Mali, as neighboring countries make plans to send troops to the troubled nation.” (VOA)
This same article went on to claim that “Residents report seeing hundreds of Tunisian and Egyptian militants in the city of Gao, while many other militants went to the central town of Douentza, close to Malian army positions in Mopti. The al-Qaida linked militants in the region have carried out public executions, amputations and floggings in an effort to enforce their strict version of Islamic law.” (VOA, October 22)
However, the MNLA has denied these reports of a large group of Islamists entering the area. Ibrahim Ag Mohamed Assaleh, a spokesperson for the organization, said “the arrival of convoys of jihadists from Sudan and the Western Sahara are totally false. We categorically deny it.” (iol.co.za, October 22)
Asseleh characterized the reports as “propaganda to intimidate the international armies who want to intervene in northern Mali. We recognize that for a long time there have been a few Sudanese in the forces of MUJAO, of whom one is at the police post in Gao (a major northern town) to oversee the application of sharia.”
Even a Malian security source told the French Press Agency (AFP) that there is “the arrival of new terrorists in the north of Mali,” but claims of several hundred are “exaggerated.” (Sapa-AFP, October 22)
Consequently, the aims and objectives of the EU, U.S. and UN Security Council are related to the overall imperialist agenda for the African continent. Africa is becoming even more strategic in regard to the exploitation of oil and other minerals that are indispensable to the world capitalist market.
Western intervention, even if it is masked by thousands of regional troops from ECOWAS, cannot resolve the problems of underdevelopment and lack of empowerment among the African masses. Africa and its people have no other choice but to take control of their resources and to develop mechanism for ensuring the security, stability and development of the continent.
By Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor, Pan-African News Wire