AFRICOM’s train and equip undoubtedly helped facilitate the coup in Mali. Train and equip was a contributing cause. Just the fact that the coup leader, Captain Sanogo received US training and attended the infamous coup school in the US at Fort Benning makes this an issue. Whether train and equip played a large part or a tiny part in the coup is hard to say at this point, but it certainly played a part. US train and equip has a long and ugly history in Africa, and in Latin America. However, Pentagon apologist Wendy Sherman alleges that train and equip is the cure to events such as the coup in Mali, not the cause.

From: Seizing opportunities from a transforming Africa (III)
Thursday, 05 April 2012
Wendy R. Sherman

“In West Africa, African peacekeepers contributed importantly to the rebuilding of the war-torn countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone. But as we have seen most recently in Mali, militaries can threaten decades of democratic gains. That is why a critical component of our engagement with Africa is to help African countries develop professional militaries to provide for the national defense of sovereign states and the safety of the populace while respecting civilian authority. Likewise, we support the creation of effective coast guards and maritime security forces to enforce exclusive economic zones and cut down on illegal fishing, as well as professional border security forces to cut down on illicit trafficking.”

A U.S. Special Forces soldier instructs Malian troops in counterterrorism tactics through a translator (right, in black turban) on the outskirts of Timbuktu in 2008. Photographs by Justin Bishop.

The author of these remarks is Wendy Sherman, is an apologist for the Pentagon and a corporate shill, or, as described on her Worldwide Speakers page:

Ambassador Sherman was recently named to the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Policy Board, where she is tasked with advising the Secretary of Defense on matters of defense policy. In 2008, she was appointed by Congressional Leadership to serve on the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism. A seasoned strategist and organizer, she is skilled at engaging stakeholders and building broad coalitions. Ambassador Sherman serves as a frequent analyst in major news outlets, providing unparalleled insight and perspective on today’s most complex issues.

Don’t forget:

From Congressional testimony by the Africa Faith and Justice Network, in July 2008:

The ‘train and equip’ idea is not new. In fact, it has a very bad history in Africa – a history that harkens back to the proxy wars of the Cold War and U.S. support for illegitimate or corrupt regimes.

In the 1980’s, the U.S. spent $500 million to train and equip Samuel Doe in Liberia. According to a report from the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute, “every armed group that plundered Liberia over the past 25 years had its core in these U.S.-trained Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) soldiers. There is thus a fear that when the United States withdraws support for its security sector reform program and funding for the AFL, Liberia will be sitting on a time bomb; a well-trained and armed force of elite soldiers who are used to good pay and conditions of service, which may be impossible for the government of Liberia to sustain on its own.”

AFRICOM’s value as a structure for legitimizing African armies should therefore be called into serious question.

This ruinous history, just from the train and equip in Liberia alone, is still playing out.  When Ivory Coast fell into conflict following the most recent presidential election, former soldiers from the Liberian and Sierra Leonean civil wars of the 90s headed to Ivory Coast looking for work in what appeared to be a coming civil war. 

When you invest all your attention and resources in the military sector, the message you send is that the military sector is best qualified to run things.  And US investment in Africa is almost entirely military.   I’m sure Ambassador Sherman would point with pride to programs such as AGOA, or some of the agricultural programs, which mostly benefit US corporations, and harm, or potentially cause great harm, for Africa.

I do not think AFRICOM’s train and equip was the main cause of Mali’s coup.  I don’t know, and have no particular reason to believe there was any US instigation in the coup, although it is possible.  Malians, and Mali’s military had many reasons to be angry with their government.   

From Mali’s Tuareg Rebellion:

Q: What are their grievances?
A: The conduct of the war against the MNLA has in their eyes [Mali's soldiers] been a thing of shame. They feel the army is underfunded, undersupplied and there are stories of soldiers almost dying of hunger because of not getting enough food. There was also supposedly a massacre of Malian soldiers in a village north of Kidal called Aguel’hoc, which the Malians claim was perpetrated by AQIM (Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb) but the jury is out on what actually happened. But in Bamako, people certainly believe that the soldiers were badly treated and brutally murdered in Aguel’hoc. The Malian army also suffered some serious defeats a couple of weeks ago, in Tessalit, which is up near the Algerian border. The MNLA captured a lot of soldiers, and the head of the MNLA, Mohamed Ag Najm, in an interview with El Watan, the Algerian newspaper, said that the MNLA had tried to hand back the soldiers to the Malian authorities but that Mali did not seem to want them. So there is also the feeling that the soldiers are being abandoned. There is a lot of anger and this anger has clearly boiled over. The big question is “Who is behind this putsch?” The leader of this little junta, Captain Sanogo, is a complete unknown, although he has fought on the frontline and has experience of the north-east. Whenever he and his junta make declarations on the TV, it is clear that there are no senior officers involved in this coup at all – no-one above the rank of captain. I think it is generally accepted that when there is a military coup in an former French colony, the French army have got something to do with it, or at least some prior knowledge, as the links between the armies in Mali and Senegal for example and the French army are very close. Most senior Malian officers will have been trained in French military academies. It is possible that this coup may be the exception and that it is being led by a group of fairly young junior soldiers who are clearly very angry. It looks like they have taken over but it is not clear if the rest of the army has gone over with them. The jury is completely out on this, we will see how this situation develops.

Whatever the relationship between the coup makers and AFRICOM, key players have received US training.

When Ambassador Sherman says:

But as we have seen most recently in Mali, militaries can threaten decades of democratic gains. That is why a critical component of our engagement with Africa is to help African countries develop professional militaries … while respecting civilian authority

She is claiming a cause of the problem is the cure for the problem. It is hard to say whether the most appropriate response to that claim is apoplectic outrage or gales of laughter.

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