Is Mali The Next Afghanistan?

The hostility of the Military Junta towards the troops of the French government in the midst of the crisis in Mali has created a scenario similar to that experienced between Afghanistan and the United States.

Mali inhabitants near a river

Photo: Wikimedia – H. Grobe

LatinAmerican Post | Yolanda González Madrid

Relations between Mali and France have reached a point of unprecedented degradation, so much so that everything seems to indicate that the situation will become something similar to what happened between Afghanistan and the United States. Since the Military Junta took office in Bamako, Paris has seen how its power and influence over the African country have been declining. What is the reason for all this and what could it lead to?

Added to the anti-French sentiment of the Malians, the expulsion of the French ambassador Joël Meyer from African territory has unleashed a wave of unfavorable scenarios for France, all due to some statements where they questioned the legitimacy of the Military Junta who assumed power in Mali since the coup in August 2020. “The situation cannot continue like this. The rupture leads us to question ourselves about our position in Mali,” recognized the French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, for the state channel France 2.

The Malian goverment alleges that the French have not maintained good relations with them, mainly because of President Emmanuel Macron’s announcement several months ago to reduce its troops in response to the coup plotters’ decision to remain in power and not immediately start with the civil transition they promised. Given this, Colonel Asimi Goita also extended his disaffection to other European countries such as Denmark and Sweden, to whom he demanded the departure of their respective contingents from African soil.

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Likewise, the Malian Foreign Minister, Abdoulaye Diop, responded to Le Drian’s statements in which he described them as “illegitimate” and “irresponsible.” In an interview granted to public television, Diop assured that the position of the French government created “a very difficult situation, because (the ambassador) cannot be accredited before an authority that he himself does not recognize.” However, this war of declarations is much deeper than some think, and in large part is due to the failure of the anti-terrorist troops that France has deployed in the Sahel since 2013.

Conflict in Mali: the latent “Afghanistan syndrome”

The lightning victory that the Taliban had in Afghanistan last year marked a turning point in Western interventions. The withdrawal of US troops after several years of conflict generated a situation of humanitarian urgency and the fight against terrorism that began to trigger similar scenarios in other latitudes. 

Today, large areas of central and northern Mali are under the control of jihadist groups, so the first Malian minister, Choguel Maïga, lamented in statements to the press that the French troops have not eradicated terrorism in his country nor have they helped them to extend their sovereignty over the entire territory. However,  the coup government still rejects the European Union missions, blaming them for hindering the efforts of its army to access certain areas of its own territory.

In fact, the European Union fears that the situation in Mali will worsen to the same level as what happened in Afghanistan. Leaving the African country would not only mean control of the Sahel by jihadist terrorists, but also open the doors to Russia, who in one way or another are seeking to extend their influence over the area. Even the Malian Military Junta itself has found in the government of Vladimir Putin a possible alternative to the problem and the lack of results on the part of France.

Although many are concerned that the Sahel will have a fate similar to that of Afghanistan, the truth of the matter is that it is unlikely that the north of Mali will end up experiencing a similar or greater intensity of violence. The motives? Among others, Syria continues to be the main jihadist territory, something that leaves the African country in the background. In addition, what Mali can contribute in terms of local demography and infrastructure is not comparable with the main jihadist territories.

For now,  France has its back against the wall in Mali, and if it really wants to avoid a possible “Afghanistan syndrome” it will have to maintain its anti-terrorist operations in the Sahel, aiming to add greater prominence to local forces.

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