Anti-war activists from across the U.S. and Vancouver, British Columbia, joined the United National Antiwar Coalition for an educational conference call Feb. 24 to discuss the U.S.-backed French military assault in Mali and Washington’s expanded intervention in Africa.
Those presenting were Ana Edwards, a leader of the Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice and Equality based in Richmond; this writer, whose comments summarized earlier articles found on the workers.org site and Glen Ford, executive editor of Black Agenda Report, an online news agency encompassing written articles, research reports, a radio broadcast and television outlet. UNAC administrative committee member Joe Lombardo chaired the discussion.
Edwards provides eye-witness report about Mali
Edwards was in Mali as part of ongoing solidarity work through the Friends of Mali when the French military invasion began on Jan. 11. Since early 2010, she has worked to develop people-to-people ties with the West African state.
At the time of the intervention Edwards was in the city of Segou some 150 miles northeast of the capital of Bamako. Her delegation was relocated to Bamako for safety reasons.
Edwards witnessed the French military buildup facilitated by Pentagon warplanes. Mali’s government under former President Amadou Toumani Toure had been a participant in the U.S. Africa Command’s (AFRICOM) joint training operations ostensibly designed to enhance the national security capability of the country.
The leader of the military coup in Mali last March 21-22, Capt. Amadou Sanogo, was trained in several U.S. military academies. Sanogo orchestrated the coup under the guise that the Toure government was failing to defeat the advances of the Tuareg rebellion in the north of the country which was led at the time by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA).
The military coup set off a national and regional crisis. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) called for the isolation of the military junta, and the U.S. and other countries said they were suspending ties with Mali pending a political resolution to the seizure of power by these army officers.
Edwards, who drafted a statement put out by UNAC opposing the intervention in Mali by France and other imperialist states, acknowledged that many within the country believed that the intervention of France would halt the reported advances by some of the northern groups who had taken several towns including Gao, Timbuktu and other areas and were imposing a reactionary social program by force of arms.
These organizations — Ansar Dine, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJUWA) and the Al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb — had taken the military initiative from MNLA in the north. French imperialism used their presence as a pretext for French and U.S. military intervention in Mali and in neighboring Niger.
Ford has been broadcasting commentaries highly critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy toward Africa as well as the relative inactivity of the Congressional Black Caucus in defending the interests of the African continent.
Ford examined the widening role of AFRICOM, saying that most African countries have been lured into joint military operations with the Pentagon. Only the governments in Zimbabwe, Eritrea and the Republic of Sudan were refusing a relationship with AFRICOM, and this made them U.S. targets.
UNAC activists were in general agreement with the presenters, raising some questions on details. There were some suggestions that UNAC develop an action plan to protest the French invasion and to halt and roll back Pentagon intervention on the continent.
War escalates in Mali
Although France claims that it will withdraw its forces from Mali in April, the situation on the ground indicates that the war is intensifying. Paris has admitted that two of its soldiers have been killed in the operations. Chad’s government, which has troops operating alongside the French, has announced that 23 of its soldiers died in fighting during Feb. 22-24 in the mountainous Ifoghas region near the border with Algeria.
Reports are emerging from the war, despite an attempt to block news from coming out of the country. Clashes have taken place in Gao, Kidal and Tessalit where MOJUWA has engaged both French and Malian units.
With the escalation in the ground war, Human Rights Watch has called upon the Malian government to investigate allegations of violations carried out by their military forces. In a statement issued on Feb. 22, HRW said that the government in Bamako should “urgently investigate and prosecute soldiers responsible for torture, summary executions, and enforced disappearances of suspected Islamist rebels and alleged collaborators.”
France’s bombing of the country, particularly in recent weeks around the Ifoghas Mountains, has drawn less scrutiny from Western-based human rights organizations. France and Chad have admitted that their operations have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people who, they claim, are all so-called “al-Qaeda linked” fighters.
Considering the worsening situation in Mali, it will remain to be seen if France withdraws its ground forces and warplanes from the country.
The French government says that it is working on a new resolution to go before the U.N. Security Council to formally establish an African-led peacekeeping force to be based in Mali. At present there are a total of 5,000 troops from Chad, Niger, Nigeria and other regional countries inside Mali. Most of them have not been deployed to the frontlines.
Since the intervention of France and its allies in Mali, the humanitarian situation has deteriorated. A recent report by the United Nations Children’s Fund notes that 1.2 million people have been directly impacted by the fighting and approximately 700,000 children have been forced from schools due to the closing of educational institutions and the displacement of teachers.
At the same time as the war in Mali escalates, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization awarded French President François Hollande the peace prize for his unilateral intervention in this West African state. Many people throughout the international community have questioned UNESCO’s choice for the award in light of Paris’ growing militarism.
U.S. deploys 100 troops to Niger
On Feb. 22, President Obama announced that he ordered 100 troops to the West African nation of Niger, which borders Mali, to assist in sending pilotless reconnaissance flights over Malian territory in an effort to share intelligence with the French military.
The U.S. and the government of Niger signed a Status of Forces Agreement in January, which is designed to govern the presence of Pentagon troops in the uranium-rich nation. The Pentagon and the CIA already have many drones and other surveillance aircraft stationed in several regions on the African continent, in addition to a permanent base in the Horn of Africa state of Djibouti.
Obama’s announcement follows the White House’s December declaration that 3,500 troops would be dispatched to nearly three dozen states around the continent. The latest policy decisions will further destabilize Africa and create more resistance among the masses of the people struggling to win a better life, free of imperialism and national oppression.