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Interesting Article: "Qaddafi and Al Qaeda: What’s Behind the Coup in Mali?" by Alexis Okeowo / Mali published Friday, March 23rd, 2012

An interesting article mentioned that residents of Bamako, the capital of Mali, say that they didn’t see the coup coming. After a long night of gunfire in a battle between young, low-ranking government soldiers (most under the rank of captain) who had staged a mutiny and Presidential palace guards, the country underwent a radical regime change without anyone being completely aware of what had happened. The soldiers, who call themselves the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and State, said they’d let Malians know when it was safe for them to turn over rule to a democratic leader. The whereabouts of President Toure are still unknown, and the allegiances of more senior military officers are unclear. Would you like to know more?

To people who know little to nothing about Mali—south of Algeria, west of Niger, with about fifteen million people—news of the coup there is probably confusing. To people who have been to the nation and know more about its politics, the recent events are still confusing—and haunting.

President Toure, a former paratrooper, was planning to step down in mere weeks, after Mali’s Presidential election—a rare move on the continent, where too many leaders overstay their terms in office. He was elected in 2002, and was hardly known as a Muammar Qaddafi-type dictator. In 1991, he had seized power by force from a military dictator; a year later, he handed over power to a democratically elected president. Toure did have problems. The Tuareg, nomadic Saharan herders, dissatisfied with their land, political, and cultural rights, have fought for independence from Mali since the nineteen-sixties. The conflict has forced two hundred thousand people to leave their homes. Toure accuses the Tuareg of fighting alongside the North African branch of Al Qaeda, a claim they deny. Recently, Tuareg soldiers who fought for Qaddafi returned to Mali with more arms and a renewed sense of frustration.

Government soldiers were also frustrated. They complained of a lack of sufficient weapons and direction, as well as of being abandoned by Toure on the front lines as a Tuareg rebel group, the Azawad National Liberation Movement, repeatedly hit the Army in several northern towns. The United States has helped train the Malian Army as part of their wider offensive on Al Qaeda on the continent. And in a Brutus-esque turn of fate, those same U.S.-trained soldiers turned on a man who was one of the U.S.’s strongest allies in the region.

Al Qaeda-affiliated factions are a growing concern in West Africa; they are thought to be hiding in the empty deserts of Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Algeria. The allegedly Al Qaeda-linked Boko Haram, in northern Nigeria, is a militant Islamist group avowedly against Western cultural influences and the southern Christian government. While I was there a few weeks ago, two European hostages were killed by a possible splinter cell of Boko Haram during a failed attempt by Nigerian and Britain troops to free them. Days later, Nigerians opened newspapers blasting fears of more Boko Haram attacks to find President Goodluck Jonathan urging them “not to despair” because his government is “winning the war against terror.” However, since Jonathan was elected, in 2011, Boko Haram’s campaign has only intensified.

Television screens throughout the landlocked country of Mali went black Friday, as residents near the building housing the state broadcaster saw troops erecting heavy barricades fearing a possible countercoup a day after a military takeover. Shots were heard ringing out Friday from outside the broadcaster, and large numbers of soldiers were seen amassing outside. The signal flickered back on for some time, then off again. A message appeared calling for the population to remain calm.

Contacted by telephone, resident Mohamed Traore said that after the signal went dead, he went outside and saw the troops rushing to put up large defenses. He lives 300 yards from the broadcaster and says that when he went to speak to them, the soldiers told him that the red beret-wearing loyalists were planning an attack. Freelance reporter Katarina Hoije, who is staying in the Laico Hotel which faces the broadcaster, said that she heard sporadic shots and saw troops arriving in large numbers outside the station.

Col. Dilal ag Alsherif told The Associated Press in an exclusive satellite telephone interview that command of the West African nation's army is in disarray and his movement is taking advantage to fight for an independent nation for the lighter-skinned Tuaregs, who have long felt marginalized by the capital. Ag Alsherif said he was speaking Friday from "very near to Kidal, you could say I am almost in Kidal," the northern government stronghold that is his next target. He said his men took the garrison of Anefis, a town south of Kidal, without a fight on Thursday. Meanwhile, in the equally important northern town of Gao, the head of a resident's committee said that the population had issued a "code red" because of rumors that the rebels were about to attack. And in Timbuktu, once a tourist hotspot, a member of a citizens' militia said the rebels had contacted them to say that they wanted to take over the town.

Tuareg-led rebellion in the north that was swelled by arms and former pro-Gaddafi fighters from Libya. The United States had been providing counter-terrorism training to Mali's army. One of the coup leaders, Captain Amadou Sanogo, president of the newly formed National Committee for the Return of Democracy and the Restoration of the State (CNRDR), said he received training from U.S. Marines and intelligence. But the overnight coup, carried out apparently by mid-level and junior officers, will put an end to such support for the moment. The World Bank, the African Development Bank and European Commission have all suspended aid funding to Mali.

Despite Toure's public image as a steadfast "Soldier of Democracy", analysts said Western backers like France and the United States had been less than happy recently with his government's efforts in countering the threat of al Qaeda and its allies in Mali's vast and remote desert north. The Tuareg-led rebels now thrusting south have said they want to set up an independent area across the northern region.

Bourema Dicko, a member of parliament in charge of the defense and security commission in Mali's parliament, told Reuters before the coup the rebels had no real clear political agenda. "They just want to be able to smuggle weapons and drugs through the north. They don't really want security," he said.

However, one diplomat gave a more nuanced view of the latest Tuareg insurgency, saying that while the desert rebels sought a homeland, pragmatism meant that they had to work with Islamists and smuggling cartels in the lawless north.

Share prices of several miners with operations in Mali dropped heavily on the news. Avion operates the Tabakoto and Kofi mining operations, both of which are about 220 miles northwest of the capital, Bamako. Avion also holds the promising Houndé gold project in Burkina Faso. "All operations at Tabakoto and Kofi are running normally and are for the most part unaffected. Mali has had democratic rule for 20 years and we do not expect any change in the political orientation of the country or its peoples," said Avion president and CEO John Begeman in a statement.

The Pentagon confirmed Friday that all U.S. special operations forces in Mali are safe amid an attempt by rogue military forces to topple the east African nation’s civilian government. The Pentagon official did not disclose the number of SOF personnel in Mali, but special operations deployments typically include small numbers of troops. The elite American commandos find themselves in the middle of a tense situation. Rogue Malian soldiers, reportedly angry at the civilian regime's handling of an uprising in the nation's north, said Friday they have seized control of the government. As recently as last month, U.S. special operations troops were in Mali. Elite commandos from the 19th Special Forces Group, based in Utah, worked with Malian and other African militaries on missions where supplies are dropped into hostile areas from the air.

As part of a counterterrorism effort in Trans-Sahara Africa that includes Mali and eight other nations, U.S. military and government personnel have worked with Malian forces to counter extremist groups, "discrediting terrorist ideology," and improve nations' military cooperation, according to U.S. Africa Command. More broadly, nearly $200 million in annual U.S. military and humanitarian--including combat training--assistance hangs in the balance. Washington sends Mali about $170 billion a year in assistance, funds that go to everything from agriculture development to military training for counterterrorism work, according to State Department and USAID budget documents.
State Department officials on Friday were taking a wait-and-see approach, declining to pull all American assistance dollars until it becomes clear whether the attempted military coup will succeed.

Just several weeks ago, Millennium Challenge touted success there, issuing a fact sheet headlined: "Prosperity Takes Root in Mali." The three-page document declared "the region is being transformed into a thriving hub of rice and vegetable production that will improve the lives of farmers and strengthen the country's food security."

It remains to be seen whether the political instability will threaten or even reverse such economic gains.



Dolo said…
This makes me so sad, so helpless. My friends in Mali, my heart is with you.

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