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.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail