Exclusively in the new print issue of CounterPunch
PARIS, THE NEW NORMAL? — Diana Johnstone files an in-depth report from Paris on the political reaction to the Charlie Hebdo shootings; The Treachery of the Black Political Class: Margaret Kimberley charts the rise and fall of the Congressional Black Caucus; The New Great Game: Pepe Escobar assays the game-changing new alliance between Russia and Turkey; Will the Frackers Go Bust? Joshua Frank reports on how the collapse of global oil prices might spell the end of the fracking frenzy in the Bakken Shale; The Future of the Giraffe: Ecologist Monica Bond reports from Tanzania on the frantic efforts to save one of the world’s most iconic species. Plus: Jeffrey St. Clair on Satire in the Service of Power; Chris Floyd on the Age of Terrorism and Absurdity; Mike Whitney on the Drop Dead Fed; John Wight on the rampant racism of Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper;” John Walsh on Hillary Clinton and Lee Ballinger on the Gift of Anger.
A Double Tale of Unintended Consequences

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.