France in Africa
French forces out of Burkina Faso, into Ivory Coast
France has officially ended its operations in Burkina Faso on Feb. 20, a month after the ruling junta there terminated a military accord that allowed the former colonial power to fight jihadists. French forces remain in the greater region, however. The move came as French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu visited Côte d'Ivoire, pledging to boost military support as jihadist attacks hit coastal West African states. (TNH)
Podcast: West Africa's forgotten wars
In Episode 161 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg provides an overview of the under-reported conflicts in West Africa, where government forces and allied paramilitary groups battle multiple jihadist insurgencies affiliated either with ISIS or al-Qaeda on a franchise model. Horrific massacres have been committed by both sides, but the Western media have only recently started to take note because of the geopolitical angle that has emerged: both Mali and Burkina Faso have cut long-standing security ties with France, the former colonial power, and brought in mercenaries from Russia's Wagner Group. In both countries, the pastoralist Fulani people have been stigmatized as "terrorists" and targeted for extra-judicial execution and even massacre—a potentially pre-genocidal situation. But government air-strikes on Fulani communities in Nigeria have received no coverage in the Western media, because of the lack of any geopolitical rivalry there; Nigeria remains firmly in the Anglo-American camp. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.
African intrigues over Wagner Group
Burkina Faso's ruling military authorities on Dec. 16 summoned Ghana's ambassador over accusations that they have hired Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group to help fight jihadists. Speaking alongside US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo said: "Today, Russian mercenaries are on our northern border. Burkina Faso has now entered into an arrangement to go along with Mali in employing the Wagner forces there." Calling the mercenaries' presence "distressing," Akufo-Addo also alleged that Burkina Faso had offered Wagner control of a gold mine as payment.
Burkina Faso coup a France-Russia pivot?
Army captain Ibrahim Traoré has been officially appointed president of Burkina Faso after ousting Paul-Henri Damiba, who had himself taken power in a January coup. A two-day standoff in Ouagadougou came to an end on Oct. 2 as religious and community leaders mediated Damiba's resignation. Damiba had promised to stem rising attacks by jihadist groups when he took charge, but violence only worsened under his watch and frustration mounted within the army. A militant attack in the north that left dozens dead last month—both soldiers and civilians—is thought to have exacerbated military schisms ahead of the coup. Tensions also built around Damiba's perceived closeness to France—the country's former colonial ruler—and reluctance to pivot towards Russia (as the junta in neighboring Mali has). Supporters of 34-year-old Traoré initially claimed Damiba was plotting a counter-coup to return to power from a French military base in the country. France denied the accusation, but the charge appeared to galvanize support for the new leader and led to protests outside the French embassy. Traoré has said he won't stay in power for long, but much remains uncertain—including whether there will be peace talks with the jihadists.
French forces out of Mali, into Niger
Lawmakers in Niger have approved a bill that clears the way for more foreign troops to be deployed in the country, which is fighting several jihadist insurgencies. The move comes as French and European forces withdraw from neighboring Mali, having fallen out with the ruling junta there. Niger's President Mohamed Bazoum had already announced plans in February to absorb some of the departing soldiers. But passing the bill through parliament formalizes the decision, amid rising anti-French sentiment in the country and the wider region.
'False flag' plot behind Mali mass grave?
The junta in Mali is accusing France of spying and subversion after the French military used a drone to film footage that Paris says shows Russian mercenaries burying bodies in a mass grave near a military base. The French government says the bodies were buried outside the base at Gossi, Tombouctou region, in a scheme to falsely accuse its departing forces of leaving behind mass graves. Video from the drone was released after pixelated images appeared on social media of corpses being buried in sand, with text accusing France of atrocities in Mali. France claims the bodies were brought to Gossi from Hombori, immediately to the south, where Malian troops and Russian mercenaries have been carrying out an operation against jihadist insurgents. The junta has acknowledged that 18 militants were killed in the operation. (The Guardian, AfricaNews, BBC News, Al Jazeera)
EU ends Mali training as junta turns to Russia
The European Union announced April 11 that it is halting its military training mission in Mali, citing the presence of Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group, who are said to have committed a slew of abuses in recent weeks alongside the Malian armed forces. The training mission, known as EUTM Mali, was launched in 2013 to help restore state authority after much of the country's north had been captured by jihadist and separatist rebels. Thousands of Malian troops benefited from courses, although the soldiers were not vetted for involvement in rights abuses before their training, or monitored for violations after. The EU was therefore accused of supporting an army that has killed more civilians than jihadists in some years. The EUTM suspension comes two months after France announced the withdrawal of its counter-jihadist forces in Mali following its feud with the country's ruling junta. Humanitarian needs are deepening amid the diplomatic and security shifts, while rights abuses have exploded since Wagner Group's arrival.
Mali: crisis deepens as foreign forces withdraw
France and allied European countries are withdrawing their military forces from Mali after diplomatic relations broke down with the ruling junta that came to power in last year's coup d'etat. The junta has meanwhile reportedly welcomed in hundreds of mercenaries from the Russian Wagner Group. The diplomatic crisis has overshadowed a worsening humanitarian emergency that has seen severe hunger hit the highest level since 2013, when the seizure of large parts of the country by jihadist rebels prompted the French intervention. Over 350,000 people have now fled violence linked to jihadist groups aligned to al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State—a nearly 70% increase from early 2020.
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