When The French Leave Mali, Africa Will Be Another Afghanistan

By Theodore Shoebat

The American military and its allies were the only thing keeping Afghanistan together. As soon as the military presence left, so did the peace. The same type of disorder is about to erupt in West Africa. The only thing keeping Mali together is the French military, and France is about to reduce its number of soldiers by about half over the next year. This will leave a partial power vacuum which will be filled up by the fanatic agents of chaos who bow to the crescent and worship an meteorite in the Arabian desert. As the Americans left Afghanistan, and the storm of blood and conquest transpired, in West Africa Islamists were observing the wave of the Taliban with glee. Iyad Ag Ghaly, head of an al-Qaeda affiliate called Ansar al-Din whose mission it is to conquer Mali, praised the Taliban who he called “brothers” and described the disaster in Afghanistan as the result of “Two decades of patience” (patience in war is something that the Muslim world is notorious for).

They see the upcoming troop reduction by France as their opportunity to emulate the Taliban. While there are many West Africans who want the French out, there are those who are prudent enough to know that it presages another horror story. Azidane Ag Ichakane, the president of a youth group in Bamako, expressed this very real concern: “I fear that we will meet the same fate as the Afghans”. Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim, a West Africa analyst at the International Crisis Group in Niger, expressed this same fear: “If France is to withdraw in a drastic manner as the U.S. did, the balance of power is likely to shift in favor of the jihadists”. He described the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan as something that empowers the African Islamists: “It’s certainly inspirational and energizing for them”.

France has around 5,100 troops in West Africa (the most out of any NATO partner) and Macron recently stated that military withdrawal was set to begin “in the coming weeks.” Three military bases in Mali have already been planned to be shut down. France’s military voices already know that withdrawal is an ominous sign of what is to come. General Marc Foucaud, who led a major counterterrorism operation in Mali in 2014, said: “All Western countries, including France, of course, would be well advised to learn the lessons of this bitter defeat”. The French deployed their military to West Africa in 2014 after the Malian government requested help and warned that al-Qaeda was about to storm Bamako, the capital of Mali. The fighting between the Islamists and the Malian government sparked in 2012 after Muslim separatists made an alliance with al-Qaeda which was aspiring to expand its presence in West Africa. Militants had an easy time obtaining weapons, since there was an abundance of arms left as a result of NATO’s overthrow of Gaddafi. As Hassan Kone details:

“Since the outbreak of the crisis in Mali in 2012, the origin of the many weapons circulating in the area has generated speculation. Libya was at one point the main source of arms. Weapons proliferation was linked to the fall of the Muammar Gaddafi regime in 2011. Following the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)-led military intervention, Libya lost control of a large part of the stockpiles it had amassed over 40 years.”

But the possession of Libyan arms began to decrease in 2013. But the fanatics found another source of weapons: the Malian military. With mass deployment of troops on the borders of Niger and Algeria, terrorists began to intercept arms shipments that were designated for soldiers and stealing these weapons for themselves. Terrorists also intercepted weapons from very poorly guarded stockpiles in unstable countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire and Niger. There are ports in West Africa that are used as illicit trafficking routes by terrorists to steal weapons. Terrorists will also simply just attack military garrisons and loot the arms. They will attack the soldiers with large numbers, surround their camp and overwhelm them with explosives. They will attach these explosives, ram the military camp with it and detonate it, killing soldiers and destroying their morale, making it easy for the terrorists to assail the camp and loot weapons.

Tuareg separatists successfully took control over north Mali which they want to make into their own state, which they call Azawad. Hence why these separatists call themselves the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). These rebels were able to take power in north Mali by capitalizing on already existing instability in the Malian government.

In March of 2012, mutinous soldiers (calling themselves the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and State), angry about the president’s handling of the Islamist uprising, overthrew President Amadou Toumani, suspended the constitution and took control. As a result of the coup — and the resulting instability — Mali’s three largest northern regions—Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu—were overrun by the Islamist separatists in just three days.

On April 6th (the day after they took over the town of Douentza), the MNLA declared northern Mali an independent state and gave it the name of Azawad. Fighting then broke out between the Tuareg rebels and the Islamists who were a part of an al-Qaeda affiliate called Ansar al-Din. These Islamists began imposing brutal Sharia punishments, which was to the ire of the Tuareg separatists. The two different sides fought against each other, and the Tuareg rebels did not just have to deal with Ansar al-Din but another Sharia enthusiast group called the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, a splinter group of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. When reading on this recent history, nothing is ever black and white, with just two groups — with two opposing ideologies — fighting each other. You have to endure through reading about one group fighting the other, but then another group fighting against the other two. While the Islamists and Tuareg separatists were fighting with each other, another group — Arab militias — fought against both the Tuareg and the separatists. But eventually both the Tuareg and Arab fighters joined forces against the Malian government. By July of 2012, the Islamists had the upper hand, the Tuareg separatists had lost much territory and most of north Mali’s cities were lost to the combatants of jihad.

The government of Mali, still under the control of the mutinous soldiers, asked for the help of foreign militaries. In January of 2013, the French intervened. Militaries from other African countries also got involved shortly after. By February of that year, with the help of the French, most of the territory had been retaken by the Malian military. A truce was also signed between the Malian government and the Tuareg rebels in June of 2013, but the rebels pulled out in September after claiming that the conditions of the truce were not being respected. Fighting continued between the French and Malian militaries and the rebels, but in 2015 there began some “peace” talks between the Malian government, and the Arab and Tuareg separatists who were now under the umbrella organization called the Coordination of Azawad Movements, or CMA. But the 2015 peace agreement failed in its mission, and no wonder, since it did not address the problem of Islamic violence, as we read in CSIS:

The 2015 Accord—officially the “Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali Resulting from the Algiers Process,” or simply “the Accord”—has failed to fulfill its promise of “genuine national reconciliation.” Its fundamental challenge? The Accord addresses only a slice of Mali’s instability: it focuses on the 2011-2012 separatist rebellion in the country’s north and has failed—in its original form and subsequent roadmaps—to address mounting Islamist violence, lethal ethnic tension, and persistent insecurity in Mali’s central regions.

But even after eight years of fighting and the deaths of 50 French soldiers and at least 1,852 Malians, there is no sign that the Islamist rage has been put to rest. According to the Washington Post: “Some 4,000 extremists in the region regularly exact mass casualties and steal equipment.”

Africa is hell. It is a terrible place to live in and I cannot blame anyone who would want to leave such a horrid continent. Just to give you an idea as to how endless the spiral of violence is in Africa, here is a story about a man named Amadou Barry. Amadou, a 55 year old cattle herder noticed smoke coming from the neighboring village of Gueourou. A moment later, he heard gunshots. The locals had gathered together for a baptism but were now under attack by an armed group of Dogon tribesmen (the majority of the Dogon are pagans but 35% of them are Muslim). Nothing good was happening. In just a matter of hours, the village of Gueourou was reduced to ashes. This was not an isolated incident, but one of many in the region of Mopti, in central Mali.

Amadou and his fellow villagers buried the dead — there were 16 corpses, one of which was that of an infant. The gunmen came for food, stealing thousands of livestock animals and taking food (they also stole jewelry). Just a few days before the slaughter, Amadou buried more bodies in another neighboring village where three people were murdered in a rebel attack. He knew that it would not take long before his village was the next target, so he fled with his wife and children to a town called Bankass. Nothing happened for two months, and Amadou finally began to feel settled in a sense of safety. But he thought too quickly, and the horror soon enough followed him, to ruin his brief repose. A group of savage assailants attacked a nearby village, striking the chief on his head with a machete and then carrying his corpse away on a motorbike. Amadou had to move again, further south to the capital city of Bamako where he would end up sleeping under a tent with 200 other refugees. The horror continues, and the sense of dread stems from the fact such instability will never end.

The entire mess that broke out in Mali in 2012 was a direct result of the overthrow of Gaddafi and the civil war that ensued as a result in Libya. In the words of Salim Chena and Antonin Tisseron:

“The war in Libya created a seismic shift in the countries of the Sahel. From the first clashes, arsenals with no surveillance, distributed throughout the country by its paranoid “Guide” (Martinez 2010, 72), were easily accessible to looters, rebels, and traffickers of all kinds.”

Nations in the Sahel depended on aid from Gaddafi’s government, and with his downfall came the end of such assistance which obviously hurt the economies of these countries. In the words of one scholar: Tripoli “had become [. . .] the backbone of the Sahelian economies” (Ammour 2012, 1). Libya led a major system of economic integration that maintained a flow of finance into the Sahel countries. This was the Community of Sahel-Saharan States (founded in 1998) which brought together over twenty countries (spanning from Somalia to Senegal), and it presented a “branch of Libya for channeling financial flows, capital, and development aid from the Libyan jamahiriya [State of the masses]” (Gourdin 2010, 504).

Moreover, there were two million people, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, working in Libya and sending money back home to their families. The overthrowing of Gaddafi by NATO put an end to this because these workers lost their jobs and were being racially persecuted. The plight of these Africans was described by the former US diplomat Ethan Chorin (who is quite in favor for the NATO narrative against Gaddafi): “African workers and migrants trapped in Libya suffered greatly in the months after February 17. Many were summarily executed purely for the color of their skin”. (Exit the Colonel, ch. 12, p. 261)

In addition to helping African countries economically, Gaddafi was also instrumental in maintaining a balance of power that prevented violent uprisings, such as from the Tuareg separatists. According to the International Crisis Group, Gaddafi could indeed “affect both the beginning and the end of irregular armed initiatives, particularly Tuareg initiatives in Northern Mali and Northern Niger” (International Crisis Group 2012, 9). Through the wealth of Libya’s petroleum industry, Gaddafi facilitated “reconciliation between the rebels and central authorities of the countries involved” and controlled “the calendar of political arrangements” (International Crisis Group 2012, 9). In order prevent Tuareg uprisings in Niger and Mali, Gaddafi would recruit Tuareg people into his military in order to maintain his influence over the Sahel.

With Libya devastated by civil war, and with the toppling of Gaddafi, these Tuareg soldiers returned home to Mali with their massive amounts of weapons and training. They joined forces with a separatist organization called the Tuareg Movement of Northern Mali, and together they formed the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the very paramilitary that helped to accelerate destabilization in Mali. Just as the removal of Saddam led to destabilization in the Middle East, the removal of Gaddafi brought chaos to the Sahel. And just as when the Americans left Afghanistan the Taliban ignited their reign of terror, so a horror will erupt when the French leave West Africa.