The European Union has suspended its two training missions in Mali after last week’s military takeover that removed President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita from power.
E.U. defense ministers met in Berlin on Wednesday and discussed the situation in Mali. It was decided that E.U. military training will continue in neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso, officials said.
The missions in Mali were suspended because they were designed to support “the legitimate national authorities [of Mali],” one E.U. official said. The two missions were training Mali’s army and police as part of international efforts to stabilize the country.
But that is only the tip of the iceberg.
Mali’s military leaders and West African mediators are discussing a possible transitional government, which would allow the E.U. to eventually resume training in partnership with the United Nations. The threat from Islamic jihadists continues to grow and despite the influx of European military personnel, the situation is far from stabilized.
Last week, the head of the military leaders that removed President Keita from power addressed the media that were brought to the Kati military base.
“I am Colonel Assimi Goïta, president of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People [CNSP]. Mali is in a situation of socio-political and security crisis. We no longer have the right to make mistakes. By making this intervention yesterday, we have put the country above [everything]. Mali first,” said Colonel Goïta.
The military has denied earlier reports according to which it planned on transitionally ruling for three years until a civilian government could take over.
“At no time have we talked about a government mostly consisting of the military,” National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP) spokesman Ismael Wague said to the press in Bamako.
“Nothing has been decided,” Wague said, adding he was surprised to learn about media reports discussing the format of any transition in Mali. He said that any decisions about the transition of power, a new president and formation of a new government would be made between “Malians and the political parties, the unions, signatory armed groups [to the 2015 peace agreement] and civil society.”
The 37-year-old Goïta, according to a piece by the “Africa Report,” was trained in Kati’s military Prytanée. Like many of the leaders of the CNSP, he is also a graduate of the École interarmes (Emia) in Koulikoro. Upon graduating from the Emia, he was assigned to the 134th Reconnaissance Squadron of Gao from 2002 to 2005. He was then sent to Kidal, where he served until 2008.
Then, until 2010, Goïta commanded a battle group in the fight against terrorist groups and drug traffickers. In 2014, he joined Mali’s Special Forces. In August 2016, he attended training at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, which is part of the U.S. Department of Defense and the German Federal Ministry of Defense. In the Center, he undertook a seven-week program wherein African military leaders learned how U.S Africa Command (AFRICOM) can help their countries.
Colonel Goïta took command of the Autonomous Battalion of Special Forces and Warfare Centers (BAFS-CA), which was created and based in Mopti, in May 2018. This assignment carried with it the rank of Deputy Chief of Army Staff.
“He is a calm and thoughtful man… His rank and position give him a good reputation in the rest of the army, even outside his battalion,” said a Malian officer, who asked to remain anonymous.
Although many press outlets in the United States have rushed to proclaim that “the U.S. trained” the coup leaders, as if they were groomed to lead an overthrow of the duly elected government, the truth is far more benign. Indeed, Goïta and other Malian military officers have received training and advising from U.S. military troops. Yet, this is the normal operating procedure for thousands of our allies all across the globe.
“This is not surprising to anyone since we have had a long-standing partnership with Mali going back decades with their armed forces,” Peter Pham, the U.S. special envoy to Africa’s Sahel region said regarding the training that Mali’s officers have had in the U.S.
Goïta’s Special Forces Battalion regularly interacted with the U.S. Special Operations Forces during deployments. It has also participated in “Flintlock” exercises, which bring together elements of several African armies and American troops and practice working together toward a common goal.
BAFS-CA SF troops are responsible for planning, coordinating, and conducting counter-terrorism operations; assisting in the gathering and transmission of intelligence; supporting conventional forces when required; and providing protection to local authorities in Mali’s central region. It is there that the violence in the country is at its worst, with about 4,000 people killed in 2019.
BAFS-CA troops have also been accused of extra-judicial executions.
Washington and the Pentagon have firmly condemned the military takeover. The U.S., like the E.U., has ceased all military training and cooperation until the situation in the country settles.
Goïta and many other military officers grew frustrated with the violence, government corruption, and lack of focus in combatting these problems facing Mali. After being recalled to Bamako last month under the guise of maintaining order amid the heightened protests against the Keita’s government, he and other military leaders decided to act.
According to GISSE.org, a political polling organization, more than 81 percent of Malians do not support the calls by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for the military junta to step aside and have Keita restored to the presidency. Almost 60 percent of people do not see the military takeover as a coup d’état.
The Malian military leaders now have to plan a transitional government, continue the fight against Islamic jihadists, and deal with the E.U. and the U.S. suspending their training missions.