NATO Nations Wage Hidden War in Mali

With the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc it led, the world witnessed what some termed the unipolar moment and others the end of history. No entity benefited more from the opening up of the world than the Pentagon. It immediately insinuated itself into every corner and cranny of the world, bringing every nation in Europe and the former Soviet republics in Central Asia into an alliance with NATO (the Partnership for Peace), and training military personnel from several scores of countries in their respective homelands and at sites in the U.S.

This led to what would never have been previously imaginable: regular U.S.-led multinational military exercises in countries like Cambodia (Angkor Sentinel), Kazakhstan (Steppe Eagle) and Mongolia (Khaan Quest). It also resulted in the Pentagon developing direct military-to-military ties with all of Africa’s fifty-four nations (with the exception of Eritria and Zimbabwe). In the 1990s the U.S. began training the armed forces of Mali in the Sahel.

By the early years of this century Washington was actively involved in a counterinsurgency war in the north of the country against ethnic Tuaregs. By 2005 the U.S. had set up an operation base at an airfield in the capital of Bamako. In 2007 an American C-130 Hercules military transport was hit by ground fire while delivery supplies to Malian troops besieged by Tuareg rebels. An American soldier died in the nation the same year.

After the attacks against the U.S. in 2001, Washington targeted terrorist groups, truly such or those portrayed in that manner, around the world. Many groups branded as terrorists – the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN) in Colombia, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in Turkey, the New People’s Army in the Philippines, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and others – had nothing to do with al-Qaeda or any other form of Islamic extremism. The Tuareg separatists in northern Mali have traditionally been in that category.

The U.S.’s Pan-Sahel Initiative, later the Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative, was the guise behind which the Pentagon hid to engage in and direct counterinsurgency operations in Mali with its NATO ally and Mali’s former colonial master France. Tuaregs have striven for an independent state, currently referred to as Azawad, in one form or another for over a century.

After first U.S. Africa Command’s, then NATO’s seven-month air war against Libya in 2011 and the near-dissolution of the country it brought about, the U.S. and its Western allies accused Tuareg fighters supposedly hosted by the government of the late Muammar Gaddafi of returning to northern Mali. Later reports said that returning Tuaregs had fought on both sides of the Western-backed insurgency against the Libyan government. But not before the ghost of Gaddafi, fiendishly murdered by America’s terrorist proxies, was blamed for the destabilization of Mali. (As Algeria was accused of allowing them to transit the country; much as it’s blamed for supporting the Polisario Front in Western Sahara, also a secular group.)

The above situation contributed to a military coup in Mali in 2012. Another was staged last year. After the first one the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 2100 which established the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). The latter has been the framework for deploying foreign troops (over 15,000) to the nation, ostensibly to fight al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in the north which first made their appearance in 2012. It’s not known if the West has attempted to attribute their depredations to Gaddafi as well. Though in her recent confirmation hearing Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman attributed all of Libya’s ills since 2011 – civil war, open-air slave markets, thousands of people drowned in the Mediterranean, etc. – to the “previous government not having set up stable governing structures” or words to that effect.

After the 2012 coup the editorial board of The Washington Post called for NATO intervention in Mali with these words:

“France, which led the NATO intervention in Libya and employed its troops to defend democracy in Ivory Coast last year, appears ready to assist the possible intervention, at least logistically. Paris, as well as its NATO partners, should perceive a moral obligation, as well as a tangible national security interest, in restoring Mali’s previous order.”

The current UN resolution provides the aureole of respectability to Western nations’ military activities in Mali, much as comparable resolutions did earlier in Afghanistan and Mali’s neighbor Ivory Coast. When the Barack Obama administration deployed over 150,000 troops to Afghanistan, 130,000 at one point served under NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which was established by the UN Security Council in December 2001 with Resolution 1386.

In April 2011, shortly after NATO took over the air war against Libya from Africa Command, UN helicopters attacked government forces in Ivory Coast in four locations. Within a week UN helicopters attacked the residence of President Laurent Gbagbo in conjunction with French helicopters on the orders of then-UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon. (The preceding year Gbagbo had run for reelection against former Washington-based International Monetary Fund official Alassane Ouattara, whose forces had been invading Ivory Coast from neighboring nations for years. France destroyed the government’s air force on the ground during that fighting. In what was a situation reminiscent of that in the U.S. a decade before, the nation’s electoral commission and its top court were split as to the result. The West supported its client Ouattara. Gbagbo was brutally deposed and jailed.)

Two days ago the French news reported that a joint French-Malian military operation had killed 26 militants (its term) near the border with Mauritania. France has over 5,000 troops deployed in the Sahel.

In January the UN confirmed that a French air strike on a wedding party in the country killed at least 22 people.

In addition to the U.S. and France, the other two members of NATO’s Quad, Germany and Britain, are also involved in the war in Mali and neighboring Niger. Berlin has recently announced that it was expanding its military training mission in Mali, increasing its troop numbers there and setting up a military hospital. It has also provided fifteen armored vehicles to the Niger armed forces and will send 100 instructors to that nation to train Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected crews. German naval commandos are training Niger’s special forces and the Luftwaffe has an air base in the country as part of the MINUSMA operation in Mali.

Britain recently deployed 400 troops to Mali, the beginning of a three-year mission there. British forces are not only supporting the UN mission but actively participating in French-led counterinsurgency operations as well.

Nine years ago The Washington Post applauded the West’s simultaneous military interventions in Libya and Ivory Coast and advocated a reprise of them in Mali. It appears the main NATO powers heeded its advice.

Not against terrorism necessarily, but decidedly against Russian and Chinese influence in the African continent.

Rick Rozoff is a contributing editor at He has been involved in anti-war and anti-interventionist work in various capacities for forty years. He lives in Chicago, Illinois. He is the manager of Stop NATO. This originally appeared at Anti-Bellum.

Author: Rick Rozoff

Rick Rozoff has been involved in anti-war and anti-interventionist work in various capacities for forty years. He lives in Chicago, Illinois. He is the manager of Stop NATO. This originally appeared at Anti-Bellum.