The Commander of US Africa Command (Africom) has shared lessons learned from what he called shortcomings in the US/Malian training programme which have contributed to turmoil in the African nation.
“We have had a US training effort with the Malian armed forces for some years. Some of that has occurred in Mali and some of that was Malian officers coming to the US for training including Captain Amadou Sanogo, who led the military coup which overthrew the constitutionally-elected government,” US Army General Carter F Ham said in his address to students and faculty at the Ralph J Bunche International Affairs Centre at Howard University, home to the oldest Africa Studies programme in the US.
“This is worrisome for us. So we looked at that and we asked ourselves: first, did we miss the signs this was happening? And was there anything we did in our training that could have been done differently and have caused a different outcome?”
The general said he believes the answer is “a little bit of both.”
From a purely military standpoint, Ham said, US forces focused Malian training almost exclusively on tactical and technical matters such as operating equipment, improving tactical effectiveness and aerial resupply to remote bases.
“All of which is good. We probably didn’t spend the requisite time focusing on values, ethics and military ethos.
“When you put on the uniform of your nation, then you accept the responsibility to defend and protect that nation, to abide by the legitimate civilian authority that has been established,” Ham said.
Additionally he said military members should act lawfully and see themselves as servants to the people of their nation.
“We didn’t train that to the degree that we needed to, I think. I believe we focused exclusively on tactical and technical aspects. So we have learned from that.”
The general also talked about what he viewed as four “inter-related problems” to ending turmoil in Mali.
“First is the restoration of the constitutional government in Bamako as a necessary precondition for a satisfactory solution. Second is addressing the concerns of a largely disaffected population in the northern portion of the country. Third is the existence in northern Mali, now of al-Qaeda and other terrorist and extremist organisations that undermine the rule of law. They have eliminated the rule of law – that has to be dealt with.”
The fourth problem, which Ham noted doesn’t get much attention but is patently the most difficult to address, are the bad and worsening humanitarian conditions across the Sahel region of north-central Africa.
“If any one of those four problems existed, it would be a significant problem. When all four exist simultaneously, it becomes increasingly complex.”
The resolution of those four issues would be the right end state in Bamako he said.
“Territorial integrity of Mali is non-negotiable. There can be no discussion of a separatist state or something similar. Realistically, we would all like to see the elimination of al-Qaeda and other terrorist and insurgent groups from northern Mali. Probably the best you can get is containment and disruption, so that al-Qaeda is no longer able to control territory there as they do today.”
The general said extended governance would also prevent extremist organisations from controlling the lives of citizens in the country’s major population centres, particularly Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal.
“Those have to be freed and restored under Malian control. So I think that is what I would see as the desired end state.”
Ham made it clear resolving these were a task for African nations and not the US.
“We see this clearly from the US government side, in fact and in perception, as an African-led endeavour done at the request of the Malian government and I think that’s well under way now,” he said.