The United States has suspended all cooperation with Mali’s military following the overthrow of the Malian president by army officers, the U.S. envoy to West Africa’s Sahel region said on Friday. This comes despite thousands of Malians celebrating the overthrow in the streets of the capital of Bamako.

U.S. envoy J. Peter Pham told the press that the U.S. condemns the overthrow of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. Yet he specified that a decision on whether to formally designate the actions as a coup had to go through a legal review.

“Let me say categorically there is no further training or support of Malian armed forces full-stop. We have halted everything until such time as we can clarify the situation,” Pham said to the media.

Pham’s comments are important since if Washington were to officially designate Keita’s overthrow as a coup, that could result in a total cut-off of direct support to the Malian government. A Pentagon spokesperson referred on Friday to the removal of Keita as an “act of mutiny.”

The U.S regularly trains troops and officers of the Malian military, including some of the officers involved in the coup against President Keita. 

But the more important factor at play here is the intelligence support that the U.S. furnishes the French-led coalition, which includes Mali, in the ongoing and bloody fight against Islamic jihadists. Most of the American support stems from neighboring Niger where the U.S. operates drones from Air Base 201.

The French have 5,100 troops in the region as part of Operation Barkhane. The operation’s goal is to push both ISIS and al-Qaeda jihadists out of the Sahel. The French also just got Special Operations Task Force Takuba off the ground. Takuba aims to train coalition troops and conduct operations by, with, and through the host nation forces. 

For at least the time being, operations will continue at the U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). The mission conducts security-related tasks to ensure the stability and protection of civilians. 

Photo of Colonel Ismaël Wagué.

“Our colleagues on the ground are emphasizing that the work of the U.N. peacekeeping mission must and will continue in support of the people of Mali, and in close liaison with the Malians, including with the Malian security and defense forces in the north and center, where the situation is still very worrying,” U.N. Spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric said.  

MINUSMA is the most dangerous U.N. operation in the world. Nearly 130 peacekeepers serving there have been killed in the violence plaguing the region, the U.N. chief told the Security Council back in June.

Mali is facing a myriad of challenges. Nearly 43 percent of the population lives in a state of extreme poverty. Additionally, the population is very young: nearly half of the population is under the age of 18. This presents even greater challenges since many of the young can be susceptible to ISIS or al-Qaeda recruitment efforts. 

An earlier military takeover in 2012 opened the door for ISIS and al-Qaeda jihadists to enter and control vast areas of the country. That prompted France to come to the aid of its former colony, pumping troops into the country to put down the jihadists. 

In a back and forth affair, the jihadists have regrouped and reformed. The removal of President Keita may possibly open the door for the terror groups to push back into territory that they had lost. 

Keita was elected in 2013 and re-elected in 2018 under an agenda of bringing peace and stability to the country. The peace he promised was not delivered. And the country’s population had been growing increasingly fed up with governmental corruption that has nullified any possible security gains. 

The military has stated that they want to rule for three years, then have an election, and return to civilian leadership. According to Radio RFI, the military junta, known as the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), proposed a three-year transitional government led by a military officer and mostly made up of officers.

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Colonel Ismaël Wagué, spokesman for the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP) disagrees with the word coup, stating that “constitutional order has not been broken” during the removal: 

“I do not agree with the use of the term ‘coup.’ It implies that there has been an interruption of the constitutional order when that is not the case. The constitutional order is in force because the Constitution is still in force.

The President dissolved the National Assembly and his government before resigning; that was his prerogative. The President resigned responsibly, after an analysis of the situation. As for us, we have begun a work that we want to carry out with all Malians. We must review our democracy, so that it meets the expectations of the people and so that we never again find ourselves in such exceptional situations.”

Mediators from West African states have met with the takeover’s military leaders. They have agreed on some points but still have a long way to go. Meanwhile, the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), condemned the “coup” and its leaders. It suspended Mali from any decision-making in the group, shut borders to Mali, and halted any money flowing into the country.

Thus far, the civilian population has been very pro-military. There has been dancing, singing, and tooting on vuvuzelas while waving banners in support of the military coup leaders in the streets of Bamako. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. has suspended all cooperation with Mali and has demanded the release of President Keita. 

“He is the legitimately elected head of state,” Pham said.