Archive for March 22, 2012
21st Century Meets 12th Century
It looks like a U.S. Army armored vehicle has blundered onto the set of an Arabian Nights movie but this is actually a real village square in Afghanistan’s Paktika province near the Pakistani border. If you click on the photo to enlarge the image you can spot a tiny satellite or sat phone dish just to the left of the left-hand tower.
U.S. soldiers use their MRAP (mine protected ambush protected) vehicle to cordon off the square of a small village near Combat Outpost Yosef Khel. The soldiers helped Afghan forces conduct traffic check points near the village.
A Coup Not a Mutiny
Disgruntled soldiers in the northwest African state of Mali have staged a coup d’etat, ousting the president and his government, discarding the constitution and closing the borders.
In a broadcast on state television a day after they seized the government station, rebel soldiers said they were ending “the incompetent and disavowed” rule of President Amadou Toumani Toure, who was set to step down after next month’s presidential election. The rebels, who called themselves the National Committee for the Reestablishment of Democracy and the Restoration of the State (or CNRDR, the acronym in French – Mali’s official language), vowed to return power to a democratically elected president “as soon as national unity and and territorial integrity is established,” the Associated Press reported.
The coup was condemned by the White House and the U.S. State Department as well as the African Union, the European Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan called the coup “an apparent setback to the consolidation of democracy” in Africa and urged reinstatement of the Toure government, AFP reported.
Mali, which elected Toure president in 2002 and again in 2007, was seen as one of the most stable democracies in the region. The elections were widely judged to be free and fair, according to the CIA Factbook. Ironically, Toure – whose whereabouts are currently unknown – ended a longtime dictatorship through a military coup in 1991.
A poor, landlocked country on the edge of the Sahara, Mali was scheduled to hold elections April 29 and Toure was expected to relinquish power because of term limits. More than a dozen candidates to replace him were expected to run. But since mid-January the government has been battling an ethnic Tuareg insurrection that has battled the army and seized several towns in the arid north. Frustration with Toure’s management of the campaign to squelch that revolt sparked the soldiers’ coup.
A U.S. Partner
Mali has been considered a key U.S. partner in the effort to halt the spread of al Qaeda-linked terrorist groups across Saharan Africa as well as in the arid border region known as the Sahel. Malian Defence Force troops have participated in the Flintlock military cooperation exercises with U.S. and European troops since at least 2005. The partnership with Mali and other African nations is a key element of the new Pentagon defense strategy which concentrates U.S. military attention in the Asia Pacific region as well as the Middle East.
U.S. and Malian troops just completed the annual Atlas Accord exercise, focusing on logistics command and control training, air drop preparation and helicopter resupply. The exercise is hosted by a different country each year. About 400 Malian troops and 125 Americans participated this year. All U.S. personnel have returned to their home stations since the exercise concluded in February, said Nicole Dalrymple, a spokesperson at U.S. Africa Command‘s Public Affairs Office in Germany.
In an email, she said a small number of U.S. military personnel are currently in Mali but “all U.S. military personnel are accounted for.”
This year’s Flintlock exercise was postponed even before the coup because of the rebellion in Mali’s northern desert region by nomadic Tuaregs. Dissatisfaction with the Toure government’s handling of the two-month-old Tuareg revolt sparked the coup. The Tuaregs, a largely pastoral ethnic group that ranges from Libya to Burkino Faso and Nigeria, have revolted several times since the 1960s, seeking an independent homeland. But the latest uprising was spurred by the recent return of heavily-armed Tuareg fighters from Libya where they were serving as mercenaries for Muammar Gaddafi before the Libyan strongman was deposed and killed. Many Malian soldiers have been killed in the fighting for which they claim they are poorly armed and equipped.
Soldiers in a base outside the capital. and at another one at closer to the fighting with the Tuaregs, began their protest complaining about the government’s inept response to the Tuareg rebellion that has seen several northern towns fall to the nomadic tribesmen and many soldiers killed or captured
Previously, according to the Associated Press, a tweet from Toure’s Twitter account: “There is no coup in Mali. There’s just a mutiny.” Now Toure’s whereabouts are unknown and several cabinet ministers reportedly have been arrested.