Since Jan. 11, when France launched bombing attacks and a ground invasion into the resource-rich African country of Mali, Paris has declared that the intervention in its former colony is limited and that it will leave in April, after the establishment of a regional force from the Economic Community of West African States.
However, several thousand troops from various African states, including Chad and Nigeria as well as the national army of Mali, have already entered the battle alongside France. And France is continuing to deploy additional troops to Mali, said to now number 4,000.
What is not being said is that these military operations, ostensibly to push back a fundamentalist Islamic group, are really designed to secure the country’s resources for the benefit of Western imperialists.
On Feb. 10, in the northern city of Gao, Malian military forces came under fire in the downtown area. Soon French helicopters entered the fray, firing into the center of the city in a battle that lasted well into the evening.
The Associated Press said that the attack in Gao, a city of 90,000 people, “foreshadows a protracted campaign by France and other nations to restore government control in this vast Saharan nation in northwest Africa.” (Feb. 10)
During the clashes, a police station was taken over by the guerrillas. The next day, French combat helicopters bombed the station in an effort to drive them out.
Journalists who observed the French military assault on the police station said the building was destroyed and bodies were left lying in the rubble. Clashes continued for three days, raising doubts about French claims that the insurgents had been driven from the cities and towns of Konna, Gao, Sevare, Timbuktu and other areas. (Al Arabiya, Feb. 11)
French fighter jets have also been carrying out bombing operations in the northeast mountainous region of Adrar des Ifoghas, ostensibly to destroy the bases of the fighters and disrupt their supply lines. The French said they had taken the airstrip in the town of Tessalit on Feb. 8 and that it will be used to back up 1,000 Chadian troops who are being deployed in the mountains. (Globe and Mail, Feb. 11)
Split in Mali armed forces
Last March 22, a military coup in Mali ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure. The coup opened the door to French intervention. But a guard regiment known as the “red berets” that was loyal to the ousted president refused to be sent to the frontlines in the north alongside the French.
In the capital of Bamako, the barracks occupied by the red berets and their families were attacked on Feb. 8 by troops of the coup regime, led by Capt. Amadou Sanogo, a Pentagon-trained officer. Reports indicate that as many as three people were killed and six others wounded.
Destruction of ancient manuscripts denied
One widely publicized report from the north of Mali claimed that the Ahmed Baba Institute, which houses thousands of manuscripts from the ancient kingdom founded during the 13th century, had been burned to the ground by retreating “al-Qaeda linked rebels.” The source for the story, which inflamed passions across Mali, Africa and the world, was supposedly the former mayor of Timbuktu, Halle Ousmane Cisse.
However, South African reporter Khadija Patel has revealed that this claim was false. Patel wrote, “Contrary to reports that emerged, the library has not been razed to the ground.” (Daily Maverick, Jan. 30)
Patel said that a televised report from Sky News reporter Alex Crawford inside the library showed that it was relatively unharmed. The Ahmed Baba Institute was funded by the African Renaissance Fund of South Africa as part of a continentwide effort to preserve and study the ancient civilizations that had flourished before European slavery and colonialism.
Patel’s report also notes, “Time Magazine’s Vivienne Walt, who has been tracking the fate of the manuscripts for the last nine months, has emphatically debunked the confusion surrounding the manuscripts. She claims she has found the manuscripts to be in safe hands after all.”
Mahmoud Zouber, the Malian presidential aide on Islamic Affairs, told Time magazine, “The documents which had been there are safe; they were not burned. They were put in a very safe place. I can guarantee you. The manuscripts are in total security.” (Jan. 28)
But imperialist propaganda and psychological warfare had already done their work of building public support for the invasion. Similar scenarios have been carried out in relation to interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.
It is necessary to expose the lies that are being spread through the corporate media. Anti-war and anti-imperialist forces within Africa and the capitalist states must organize to oppose military interventions throughout the continent and in other parts of the world.