FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

France’s Tragic Path in Mali

by BARRY LANDO

Paris.

With hundreds of French troops in Mali, and hundreds more headed that way, the U.S. among other countries, has also pledged some limited support: intelligence, communication, logistics, unarmed drones. But Washington obviously would like to keep a low profile. Washington, in fact, had been militating against just such a move, fearing that another Western intervention in an Arab land would provide another ideal recruiting target for erstwhile jihadis across the Muslim world, not to mention to provoking a spate of terrorist attacks in Europe.

In fact, though, it turns out that the U.S. has already played a major role in the crisis. It’s a devastating lesson of plans gone awry, another dreary footnote to the law of unintended consequences.

According to an excellent New York Times account, for the past several years, the United States has spent more than half a billion dollars in West Africa to counter the threat of radical Islam, America’s “most ambitious counterterrorism program ever across these vast, turbulent stretches of the Sahara.”

The aim of the program was that, rather than rely on the U.S. and its allies to combat Islamic terrorism in the region, the United States would train African troops to deal with the threat themselves.

To that end, for five years U.S. Special Forces trained Malian troops in a host of vital combat and counterterrorism skills. The outcome was considered by the Pentagon to be exemplary

But all that collapsed as the result of another unintended consequence– of the French-led intervention in Libya. After the fall of Khadhaffi, droves of battle-hardened, well-armed Islamic fighters and Tuareg tribesmen, who had been fighting in Libya, swarmed into Northern Mali.

Joined by other more radical Islamist forces, some linked to Al Qaeda, they had no trouble defeating the Malian army.

Why? Because of the defection to the rebels of several key Malian officers, who had been trained by the Americans.  Turns out that those officers, who were supposed to battle the rebels, were ethnic Tuaregs, the same nomads who were part of the rebellion.

According to the Times, The Tuareg commanders of three of the four Malian units in the north, at the height of the battle, decided to join the insurrection, taking weapons, valuable equipment and their American training with them. They were followed by about 1600 additional army defectors, demolishing the government’s hope of resisting the rebel attack.

In other words, it’s very likely that the French and their allies-to-come in Mali will be battling rebel troops trained by the U.S. Special Forces.

Caught totally by surprise by the whole ghastly mess, the American officials involved with the training program were reportedly flabbergasted.

There are obvious questions: How was it possible for the Special Forces and their Pentagon bosses and the CIA to have had such a total lack of understanding of the Malian officers they’d trained and the country they’d been operating in for over five years? But you could ask that same question about U.S. military actions in any number of countries over the past few decades, from Lebanon to Iraq to Afghanistan, where the most apt  comparison might be to releasing elephants into a porcelain shop.

Which leads to a more fundamental question: how is the U.S. to avoid similar catastrophic mistakes down the road? The Pentagon has recently announced that some 3,000 troops, no longer needed in Afghanistan, have been reassigned to work with the local military in 35 countries across Africa–to deal with the threat of Al Qaeda-linked terrorism.

Sounds just like what was going on in Mali.

But does anyone really think the U.S. and its military will have a better understanding of the myriad forces, tribes, religions, governments, legal and illicit financial interests struggling for power and influence in those countries than it did in Mali?

Or in Iraq, Or Afghanistan or Iran or Somalia or Lebanon, or Vietnam or Cambodia.

And has France now embarked down the same tragic path?

Barry M. Lando, a graduate of Harvard and Columbia University, spent 25 years as an award-winning investigative producer with 60 Minutes. His latest book is “Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush.” Lando is currently completing a novel, “The Watchman’s File”, concerning Israel’s most closely guarded secret (it’s not the bomb.) He can be reached through his blog.

BARRY LANDO is a former producer for 60 Minutes. He is the author of The Watchman’s File. He can be reached at: barrylando@gmail.com or through his website.

Weekend Edition
February 12-14, 2016
Andrew Levine
What Next in the War on Clintonism?
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Comedy of Terrors: When in Doubt, Bomb Syria
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh – Anthony A. Gabb
Financial Oligarchy vs. Feudal Aristocracy
Paul Street
When Plan A Meets Plan B: Talking Politics and Revolution with the Green Party’s Jill Stein
Rob Urie
The (Political) Season of Our Discontent
Pepe Escobar
It Takes a Greek to Save Europa
Gerald Sussman
Why Hillary Clinton Spells Democratic Party Defeat
Carol Norris
What Do Hillary’s Women Want? A Psychologist on the Clinton Campaign’s Women’s Club Strategy
Robert Fantina
The U.S. Election: Any Good News for Palestine?
Linda Pentz Gunter
Radioactive Handouts: the Nuclear Subsidies Buried Inside Obama’s “Clean” Energy Budget
Michael Welton
Lenin, Putin and Me
Manuel García, Jr.
Fire in the Hole: Bernie and the Cracks in the Neo-Liberal Lid
Thomas Stephens
The Flint River Lead Poisoning Catastrophe in Historical Perspective
David Rosen
When Trump Confronted a Transgender Beauty
Will Parrish
Cap and Clear-Cut
Victor Grossman
Coming Cutthroats and Parting Pirates
Ben Terrall
Raw Deals: Challenging the Sharing Economy
David Yearsley
Beyoncé’s Super Bowl Formation: Form-Fitting Uniforms of Revolution and Commerce
David Mattson
Divvying Up the Dead: Grizzly Bears in a Post-ESA World
Matthew Stevenson
Confessions of a Primary Insider
Jeff Mackler
Friedrichs v. U.S. Public Employee Unions
Franklin Lamb
Notes From Tehran: Trump, the Iranian Elections and the End of Sanctions
Pete Dolack
More Unemployment and Less Security
Christopher Brauchli
The Cruzifiction of Michael Wayne Haley
Bill Quigley
Law on the Margins: a Profile of Social Justice Lawyer Chaumtoli Huq
Uri Avnery
A Lady With a Smile
Katja Kipping
The Opposite of Transparency: What I Didn’t Read in the TIPP Reading Room
B. R. Gowani
Hellish Woman: ISIS’s Granny Endorses Hillary
Kent Paterson
The Futures of Whales and Humans in Mexico
James Heddle
Why the Current Nuclear Showdown in California Should Matter to You
Michael Howard
Hollywood’s Grotesque Animal Abuse
Steven Gorelick
Branding Tradition: a Bittersweet Tale of Capitalism at Work
Nozomi Hayase
Assange’s UN Victory and Redemption of the West
Patrick Bond
World Bank Punches South Africa’s Poor, by Ignoring the Rich
Mel Gurtov
Is US-Russia Engagement Still Possible?
Dan Bacher
Governor Jerry Brown Receives Cold, Dead Fish Award Four Years In A Row
Wolfgang Lieberknecht
Fighting and Protecting Refugees
Jennifer Matsui
Doglegs, An Unforgettable Film
Soud Sharabani
Israeli Myths: An Interview with Ramzy Baroud
Terry Simons
Bernie? Why Not?
Missy Comley Beattie
When Thoughtful People Think Illogically
Christy Rodgers
Everywhere is War: Luke Mogelson’s These Heroic, Happy Dead: Stories
Ron Jacobs
Springsteen: Rockin’ the House in Albany, NY
Barbara Nimri Aziz
“The Martian”: This Heroism is for Chinese Viewers Too
Charles R. Larson
No Brainers: When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail