Putsch in the Theater of Operations

Berlin and Paris are relying on a military solution, even after the putsch in Mali. More civilians are killed by military in the Sahel, than by jihadis.

BERLIN/BAMAKO (Own report) - Following the coup in Mali, politicians in Berlin are pushing to enhance the influence of Germany and the EU in the Sahel. Brussels should be engaged "more vigorously for the security in West Africa," admonished CDU/CSU Defense Policy Spokesperson in the Bundestag Henning Otte. The Bundestag had already approved an increase in personnel for the training units in Mali. German troops in northern Mali will be provided with an additional drone. France seeks also to commit more troops. The Sahel's increasing militarization has led to a constantly growing number of civilians being killed by regular soldiers. While the EU is training Mali's armed forces, Malian soldiers are massacring villagers. The coup itself is the result of a dynamic stemming from the population's indignation toward the corruption of Mali's elites, who are cooperating with European powers. This development is quite similar to that in Afghanistan.

Pro-Western Corruption

Mali's recent putsch is already the second in only nine months. During the first coup on August 18, 2020, young officers, under the command of Colonel Assimi Goïta, ousted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta. For weeks and months prior to the coup, a broad movement had been mobilizing against Keïta - a close collaborator of western powers, particularly France - protesting against the deficiencies in the health and educational systems, as well as the manipulations following the parliamentary elections in the spring of 2020 and rampant corruption.[1] Bitter discontent had also gripped the armed forces. Rank and file soldiers had repeatedly been ordered into dangerous combat missions against jihadis, with fully inadequate equipment, because funds earmarked for their equipment had ended up in the pockets of corrupt government cronies. At the time, because of the general exasperation with the western-backed Keïta government, the Malian population had initially supported the putsch in the hopes of improvements conditions, beyond the corruption covered by the West.

The Next Putsch

Hopes that the putsch would bring an improvement of the situation have since dissipated. A cabinet reshuffle by the interim government at the beginning of the week, after new protests had flared up, sparked the second putsch. On Monday, the military arrested the president and prime minister. According to Goïta - formally the vice-president - the new coup was justified, because he had not been sufficiently in agreement with the cabinet reshuffle. The dismissal of two of the August 2020 putsch organizers, Colonel Modibo Koné and Colonel Sadio Camara had tipped the scales. The fact that Camara had spent a year in Moscow's military academy has prompted speculations that he displays "too much affinity with Moscow."[2] Goïta, on the other hand, has attended military training programs in the United States and at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in the Bavarian town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen and, years ago, had already cooperated closely with US armed forces in maneuvers.[3] So far, the putschists under Goïta, have been sticking to their original plans of organizing a constitutional referendum in October and elections in 2022. In the meantime, the president and prime minister have been released.

"... Then the Whole Thing Makes no Sense"

The second putsch came at a time, when developments in Mali were spiraling out of control. From the beginning of the French-led - and from Germany largely influenced - military intervention more than eight years ago, the jihadi-inspired insurgency has spread, not only into central Mali, but also to neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso. A military solution to the conflict, as perceived by European powers, is nowhere in sight. On the contrary, last year, according to human rights organizations, an unprecedented nearly 2,400 civilians in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso had been killed because of combat.[4] More than 2 million residents have been forced from their homes. And for the first time, more civilians and unarmed suspects have been killed by regular military forces and their partner militias, than by jihadis. A survivor of one of the massacres carried out by the Nigerian military was quoted saying, "if you are more afraid of the soldiers, who are supposed to protect you, than of the armed criminals, who are going to kill you, then the whole thing makes no sense."

Troops that Massacre

These accusations are also being raised against European troops. According to an investigation by the United Nations, on January 3, 2021, 19 civilian guests of a wedding party were killed during a French military air strike within the framework of France's Operation Barkhane on the central Malian village of Bounty.[6] Paris had claimed that only armed insurgents had been killed in the strike. For years, Malian troops have been accused of committing horrendous massacres. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[7]) This is all the more serious, given the fact that the EU training mission (EUTM) is training Mali's troops. Germany's Bundeswehr plays an important role and on several occasions the mission has been under the command of a German officer. Nearly a year ago, the United Nations reported that Malian troops had committed at least 119 murders and caused 32 people to disappear without a trace. One massacre by soldiers firing at fleeing villagers on June 5 2020, caused 37 victims.[8] Just a few weeks ago, Human Rights Watch published a report documenting that Malian soldiers have allegedly murdered at least 34 villagers and forcibly disappeared at least 16 people.[9] In contrast to the UN report, these are crimes committed following the first putsch.

More Military

Berlin and Paris reacted to the latest coup with outraged protests. Already last Tuesday, Germany's foreign ministry announced that the putsch "sends a disastrous message to the people of Mali and the international community": "We condemn this step unequivocally."[10] French President Emmanuel Macron even announced "targeted sanctions."[11] The Defense Policy Spokesperson of the CDU/CSU Parliamentary group in the Bundestag, Henning Otte, called for a reinforcement of European activities in the Sahel. The EU must "be more vigorously engaged in the security of West Africa."[12] In fact an expansion of military activities is long-since in progress. At the beginning of May, at the occasion of German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer's video call with German troops in Bamako and Gao, it was reported that the Bundeswehr will be receiving an additional drone in Mali.[13] On May 19, the Bundestag passed a resolution for the increase of Germany's EUTM contingent in Mali from 450 to 600 soldiers.[14] France, in turn, is increasing the Task Force Takuba, in which special forces from various EU countries are training special forces units from several Sahel countries. Until now, Estonia, Italy, Sweden and the Czech Republic are participating.

Like Afghanistan

With the constant expansion of the military intervention in Mali, or throughout the Sahel, Berlin and Paris are persisting in the militarization of the conflict, even though this has only led to the conflict's exacerbation. For years, parallels to Afghanistan have been obvious.[15] Western troops are now withdrawing from Afghanistan, in clear admission of their military defeat.[16]


[1] Bernard Schmid: Mali vor dem Umbruch. akweb.de 17.08.2020.

[2] David Ehl: Mali: Was hinter dem "Putsch im Putsch" steckt. dw.com 26.05.2021.

[3] Fred Muvunyi, Antonio Cascais: Putsch in Mali: Welche Rolle spielt Russland? dw.com 28.08.2020.

[4], [5] Drissa Traoré: « Plus de civils ou suspects non armés ont été tués au Sahel en 2020 par des forces de sécurité que par des groupes extrémistes ». lemonde.fr 14.02.2021.

[6] UN investigation concludes French military airstrike killed Mali civilians. news.un.org 30.03.2021.

[7] See also The Human Rights Teachers.

[8] UN expert urges Mali to step up measures to end extrajudicial executions and vicious cycle of impunity. ohchr.org 12.06.2020.

[9] Mali: Killings, 'Disappearances' in Military Operations. hrw.org 20.04.2021.

[10] Auswärtiges Amt zur Lage in Mali. Pressemitteilung, 25.05.2021.

[11], [12] Macron will Sicherheitsrat wegen Mali anrufen. n-tv.de 25.05.2021.

[13] Anzahl der Heron-Drohnen für MINUSMA-Mission der Bundeswehr in Mali wird erhöht. bmvg.de 06.05.2021.

[14] Bundestag verlängert Ausbildungsmission der Bundeswehr in Mali. bundestag.de 19.05.2021.

[15] See also Like in Afghanistan.

[16] See also Abzug aus Afghanistan.