April 22, 2013–The following two news reports contain some factual information on developments in Mali. An article updating the situation in Mali is forthcoming on this website.–RA
French parliament votes to prolong Mali mission
The French parliament voted to prolong military operations in Mali on Monday (April 22) as a French colonel warned that Mali’s army still suffers from a lack of training and crucial funds, months after the EU launched a training mission to bolster the country’s forces.Lawmakers voted unanimously to prolong the mission, and Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault vowed that French forces would remain until the operation can be declared a “military success”. But whether Mali’s stability can be ensured beyond the French mission remains an open question.
The European Union in January approved a 15-month training mission aimed at rebuilding Mali’s poorly paid and under-equipped national forces, with the aim of making it strong enough to fend off a possible resurgence by the Islamist militants who took control of the north of the country last year. But some €8 million ($10 million) pledged by international donors at a conference in Addis Ababa has not yet reached the army.
“The international community says, ‘We absolutely need to rebuild the Malian army’. But not a euro has been given to the Malian army … even though 8 million euros were promised on January 29 at the Addis Ababa donor conference,” Bruno Heluin, who trains Malian troops as part of the EU mission, told France’s “Le Monde” daily.
Instead, he said, the army is merely getting on “day by day”, with equipment donated by major powers proving unreliable and corrupt officers robbing the army of transport vehicles.
The army is nearly entirely dependent on outdated equipment donated by major powers including France, China, Russia and the United States – donations that had exacerbated its troubles rather than fix them, Heluin said.
“Since 2006, the Malians have ordered 800 pickup trucks,” he said. “Today, almost none remain.” Some of the trucks have been stolen outright, while he said others were picked over for parts.
Under these circumstances, Heluin said, effective training seems almost impossible.
Hervé Morin, France’s former minister of defence, seems to agree that Europe needs to do more to back up French efforts in Mali. He said on Monday that without a serious European commitment, it would be unlikely that French troops would be able to leave the country before the end of 2014.
France began to withdraw its 4,000-strong force from Mali this month after driving back an offensive by the Islamist militants who had seized two-thirds of the country in the north.
The UN Security Council is considering a draft resolution to approve the creation of a 12,600-strong UN peacekeeping force that would take over from the UN-backed African force currently in place. But the peacekeepers would not remain indefinitely and donors have insisted that Mali’s army be brought up to strength in order to defend against any future Islamist incursions.
US slams African force as French begin Mali pullout (sic)
By Joseph BAMAT, France 24, 10/04/2013
A senior US Department of Defence official said Tuesday that the regional ECOWAS troops tasked with relieving French troops in Mali are “completely incapable” and warned al Qaeda may try to retake parts of the country after France’s withdrawal.
A senior Pentagon official has said that troops from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in Mali to counter armed rebels, were incapable of fulfilling its mission. On the same day France began a gradual military withdrawal from the country, the official also warned that al Qaeda would attempt to take back the territory it had conceded.
“Right now, the ECOWAS force isn’t capable at all. What you saw there, it is a completely incapable force. That has to change,” Michael Sheehan, assistant secretary of defence for special operations, told the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on Tuesday.
The UN-backed ECOWAS contingent, some 4,300 soldiers from Togo, Senegal, Benin, Ghana, Niger, Sierra Leone, the Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso, have been fighting in Mali alongside 4,000 French and around 2,000 Chadian troops.
The multi-nation African force previously faced criticism after sluggishly mobilising to Mali, prompting many observers to say that France was isolated in the effort to push back AQIM — al Qaeda’s north African branch — and other fighters from their desert strongholds earlier this year.
Helping France help Mali
Speaking to US Senators, Sheehan praised the French intervention that “very rapidly” pushed Islamist rebels “back across the Niger river and took control of the major cities” in Mali’s desert north.
On Tuesday, France withdrew 100 soldiers from Mali as part of plans to reduce its troops by half by this summer, as Paris tries to shift from a combat role to that of training and supporting Mali’s own army.
Sheehan said the US had a part to play in helping a current European mission — spearheaded by France — that is charged with rehabilitating Mali’s army to full combat capacity within 15 months.
“It’s a very weak army, notwithstanding all the aid that we provided them over the last five years or so,” Sheehan said of Mali’s poorly-paid and ill-equipped troops. “It remains to be seen how it will evolve and develop into a professional force.”
Sheehan said the administration of President Barack Obama had barred the Department of Defence from providing any direct support to the Malian military, according to the The Hill, a blog on US Congressional activity.
Mali’s current leadership is in place as the result of a military coup in March 2012, restricting US foreign assistance in many ways. France’s largely successful military campaign against extremists in Mali had the help of US intelligence and airlift assets.
Will al Qaeda strike back?
During the hearing, Sheehan also said AQIM would attempt to reconstitute itself in Mali. “We’ll see whether [they] will be able to establish a strategic capability from there over the years ahead,” he noted.
He added that much of the al Qaeda leadership previously based in Mali had escaped as French forces began taking back key cities.
French and ECOWAS troops have inflicted severe losses on rebels, but soldiers are still battling significant pockets of resistance in Gao, as well as in the fabled desert city of Timbuktu.
This weekend saw one of France’s largest actions since its military operation began in January.
Paris has already signalled that despite winding down the war effort, it would leave a 1,000-strong combat force in Mali indefinitely.