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article imageOp-Ed: Did France plan Mali mission long in advance?

By Ken Hanly     Feb 26, 2013 in Politics
Bamako - In a recent article, Vancouver-based writer and anti-war activist, Roger Annis, maintains that the French intervention had long been planned. He also claims that the French intend to stay in Mali for a long time and not withdraw quickly as they claim..
As Annis points out the mainstream press has created a narrative of the French intervention on January 11, 2013 as a hastily made decision in response to the threat posed by a militant fundamentalist advance into the south of Mali. Annis claims this whole narrative is a deception. Of course, there was an advance by militant Islamists to the south. Annis' point is that this provided an opportunity to carry out plans that had been made long before.
The second deception according to Annis the French claim that they will withdraw their 4,000 troops and hand over security to the Malian forces as well as the UN-supported African AFISMA forces. Annis thinks that France, the US and some of its allies such as Canada have high economic stakes in the Sahel region and that continued intervention is necessary to protect existing investments and promote new investments in areas threatened by militants at present.
As exemplified by the attack on a gas plant in Algeria, foreign investments are not safe in areas where the militants operate. Annis notes with specific reference to Mali that Canadian mining investment in the country has risen from $6 billion in 2005 to $31.6 billion in 2011. Investors worry that some African countries are starting to pursue a policy of resource nationalism that is under pressure from unions and environmentalists are pressing for a better return for the country and also more regulations that are in the interest of the host country. This development means less profit to international capital. Developing close relations with the military, training them, and supporting friendly politicians is a long term necessity for countries with investment interests in Africa.
Annis thinks that there will be a long-term military occupation of Mali but masked by an African component and approval of the UN. While Annis may be correct, I doubt very much that France will be at the forefront of the occupation. I expect that the French will begin withdrawing troops in March. While the US, France, and other western countries will provide support for the African forces and perhaps have special forces, trainers, and drones for surveillance or even attacks, the main military activity will probably be left to African forces. Already Chad has lost more troops than France. Direct intervention with many boots on the ground is just too expensive both in money and political terms.
While a desire to protect investments and create opportunities for further investment are no doubt an important aspect of western policies, this goal is part of a larger multi-causal matrix. There is a desire among politicians to rid the world of militant groups as far as possible, at least those who may threaten their interests. They are tolerated or even promoted when attacking an Assad, Gadaffi, or the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The west can still draw on the fear of terrorist attacks upon home countries as a justification for taking preventive action throughout the world.
Annis cites a report from a French newspaper Le Nouvel Observateur which shows that after the defeat of the Malian army in early 2012 in the north after the coup in Mali by US-trained Captain Sanogo French authorities were worried about the situation in Mali. After the election of President Hollande in May 2012 an official of the Ministry of Defense told journalists:. "When the outgoing government passed over the (foreign affairs) files, Mali was on the top of the pile." After his election, President Hollande strenuously denied any intention of intervening in Mali. However, at the same time as he was issuing these denials:". But soon after his election, French special military forces were infiltrating the north of the country to map aerial bombing targets and conduct other preparations." Annis claims that Hollande's talk of an African-led force to take control of the north was a means of masking his real intentions.
The US was not convinced that African forces were up to the task of dislodging the militants from the north. What was needed was high tech well-trained armed forces with adequate equipment to quickly drive out the militants from major cities. While various resolutions did pass through the UN and an African force was eventually approved, it was not to be ready until about September of 2013. France's unilateral intervention at the request of the interim government was not sanctioned by an international mandate. However, many countries approved the action. Annis seems to argue that the intervention was not justified because there was no constitutional government in Mali. While Captain Sanogo and his crew have considerable influence on the interim government it is recognised internationally as the legitimate government of Mali.
However, as Annis points out the interim prime minister was tossed out of office by the military. The interim president, Dioncounda Traore was badly beaten by Mali soldiers in May and had to flee to Paris for safety and treatment. The US and French trainers lept into action and were able to press the military to allow Traore to return and resume office.
The farce continues with Sanogo, the coup leader, being appointed by Traore to head a commission whose mission is to reform Mali's military. No doubt the first order of business will be to disband the paratroop regiment that remained loyal to the elected president Amadou Toure during the coup. This regiment was trained by Canadians and recruits were chosen for their loyalty to the president among other factors. More details of the conflict between the paratroops and the coup supporters can be found in Annis' article.
No doubt some form of "transition to democracy" will be engineered in Mali with considerable input from Malian military coup leaders and external countries such as France and the US. Negotiating any stable functional government may be more difficult than driving militants from the north. At the same time, the government will no doubt need continuing help to fend off remnants of the rebels who will launch continuing terror attacks. A recent article in Digital Journal confirms Annis' suggestion that the French may stay in Mali for some time.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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