Saudi Arabia, with some French funds, began supplying anti-aircraft missiles to Syrian rebels “on a small scale” about two months ago, a Gulf source familiar with the matter said on Monday.
The shoulder-fired weapons were obtained mostly from suppliers in France and Belgium, the source told Reuters. France had paid for the transport of the weapons to the region.
The supplies were going to General Salim Idriss, leader of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), who was still the kingdom’s main “point man” in the opposition, the source said.
Speaking to Reuters on Friday, Idriss urged Western allies to supply anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles and to create a no-fly zone, saying if properly armed he could defeat the Syrian army within six months.
The Gulf source said without elaborating that Saudi Arabia had begun taking a more active role in the Syrian conflict.
The remarks come one day after German news weekly Der Spiegel reported that that Saudi Arabia was looking at sending European-made Mistral-class MANPADS, or man-portable air-defense systems.
The article, citing a classified report received by the German foreign intelligence service and the German government last week, said the shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles can target low-flying aircraft including helicopters and had given mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan a decisive edge against Soviet troops in the 1980s.
It wasn’t immediately clear if these were the same anti-aircraft guns that the kingdom has already allegedly sent.
The United States vowed last week to send military aid to rebel forces after accusing the government of using “small amounts” of chemical weapons. Washington has also sent F-16 jets and anti-aircraft guns to Jordan with talk of possibly enforcing a no-fly zone on Syria.
Russia has repeatedly said that a unilateral US-imposed no-fly zone on Syria would violate international law, and on Monday said it would “not allow” such a scenario.
"I think we fundamentally will not allow this scenario," Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told a news briefing Monday.
Lukashevich spoke before planned talks between President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of a G8 summit in Northern Ireland which were expected to focus on the conflict in Syria that has killed at least 93,000 people according to the UN.
"All these manoeuvres about no-fly zones and humanitarian corridors are a direct consequence of a lack of respect for international law," Lukashevich said.
He said Russia did not want a scenario in Syria that resembled the events in Libya after the imposition of a no-fly zone which enabled NATO aircraft to help rebels overthrow Muammar Gaddafi.
Two of America’s medium-altitude Reaper drones will be sold to France as backup for the country’s operations against Islamist rebels in Mali.
The news comes from the ‘Air et Cosmos’ specialist magazine, which reported online that a deal had been reached between France and the United States for the sale of two non-armed MQ-9 units.
The French air force had already deployed a European-made Harfang drone to Mali, with the country now wishing to acquire more modern models quickly, although any purchase of the US Reapers directly from the manufacturer (as was done with Harfang) is expected to delay delivery by seven months.
Noticed a conspicuous lack of specificity in the reports on the French invasion of northern Mali? It’s not an accident, but rather part of a deliberate French military strategy.
Reporters Without Borders issued a statement today faulting France for imposition of its “zero image of the war front” goal, keeping private journalists from covering most of the invaded African nation and confining most of the foreign reporters to the capital city.
Even there, coverage is difficult and downright dangerous, as the Malian junta summarily detains journalists regularly, often confiscating their equipment and beating them if their reports are seen as unsympathetic to the regime.
It took a solid week of war before France even considered allowing “embedded journalists” into the northern two-thirds of the nation, and those journalists are exclusively from French state media, limiting their objectivity.
French troops have been quick to limit even that access, with reporters allowed into the conquered city of Gao only to be forcibly removed in an “emergency evacuation” when rebels ambushed troops and launched a suicide bombing on the city’s outskirts.
… In this Folies de Pigalle in the desert, Washington will be “leading from behind.” Wise move; shadow wars bypass quagmires. It’s the French – with typical Gallic grandeur – who will remain infatuated with the illusion of soon ruling the Mali desert. In fact they won’t even rule algae in the Niger river, because this will be a protracted nomad war. The prospect of a succession of sandy Dien Bien Phus looms.
And the minute most of Mali’s impoverished population – for the moment in favor of getting rid of AQIM, MUJAO, Belmokhtar’s gang and Ansar ed-Dine – feels the slightest whiff of neocolonial occupation, the French are on their way to meet the American fate in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
It’s enlightening to regard all this under the perspective of President Obama 2.0 administration’s foreign policy, as (vaguely) outlined in his inauguration. Obama promised to end US wars (shadow wars are much more cost-efficient). He promised multi-lateral cooperation with allies (while Washington effectively calls the shots), negotiation (as in our way or the highway) and no new war in the Middle East.
To take the president at his word, this translates into no US war against Syria (just the shadow variety); no Bomb, Bomb Iran (just murderous sanctions); and France gets the Mali prize. Or will it? Zero Dark pulp fiction starts now. [++]
This is mission creep on speed.
Two weeks ago we were told Britain would have no combat role in Mali and we would send just two transport planes. Now we are told the government is sending 350 British military personnel to Mali and West Africa to support French forces.
Prime Minister David Cameron is “keen” for Britain to get more involved in war on a new continent. He sent national security advisor Sir Kim Darroch to Paris to discuss what help Britain could provide. He has personally phoned French Prime Minister Hollande to offer more help and he is “keen to continue to provide further assistance”.
The British government says it is prepared to send a “sizeable amount” of troops to provide military assistance to France. This is how major wars begin. In the early 1960s, the United States started with a few “special advisors” in Vietnam. More than a decade later it left defeated, with over 50,000 American troops and at least two million Vietnamese killed.
Forgetting historical example is one thing. Ignoring the last few years is extraordinary. The disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — and the attack on Libya — were presented as humanitarian operations, complete with images of cheering local populations greeting western intervention — soon replaced by the devastation of the countries and huge death toll for the people they were meant to “liberate”.
The spread of the “war on terror” to the Sahel region in Africa is a result of the chaos created by the Libyan intervention. It is also driven by the same motivations as previous wars, the desire to control vital energy reserves and other mineral resources. The region contains some of Europe’s most important energy sources.
The Mali intervention will end with the same results: destruction, loss of life and deep anger against the west.
How long before the presence of thousands of western troops in their old colonial stomping grounds inflames new violence and resistance?
… It is the case that the Malian “government” did request assistance. But bear in mind that this “government” came to power as a result of a coup led by the military, whose coup leadership (especially Captain Amadou Sanogo) was trained by the US; and that the actual Malian democracy of the 1990s was consistently undermined by the West and the IMF, who inserted their own man to the prime minister’s office in the early 2000s. Mali did not call for the intervention; the undemocratic, and Western backed, coup regime’s antecedents did. The current President, Dioncounda Traoré is only the Acting President, whose installation to his current office in April 2012 was sealed with a promise to fight a “total and relentless war” on the Tuareg, giving in, therefore, to the Malian military’s main grouse that led to the March 2012 coup in the first place. Traoré’s first Acting Prime Minister, Cheick Modibo Diarra was removed by the coup leaders in mid-December 2012 and replaced by Django Sissoko, who presided over a regime dominated by the coup leaders. This is the government that invited the French into Mali. Sanogo’s own political leanings can be gauged by the fact that he opposed the entry of an UN-authorized African force (staffed by ECOWAS) but he welcomed the French bombardment.
The African Union’s head, Yayi Boni, but not the African Union itself, hastily blessed the French intervention. Benin’s President Boni, a former banker who has become paranoid about his own safety, said he was aux anges or thrilled with the French intervention. Niger’s Mahamadou Issoufou backed the intervention and a military solution, but more it seems out of nervousness about Niger’s precarious position. When Issoufou came to power in 2011, he appointed a Tuareg social democrat, Brigi Rafini to be his Prime Minister, seeking to unite all of Niger, including the restive Tuareg. Pressure on the Francophone African heads has been immense – but even here there are signs of stress, as it is disagreement amongst them that has prevented a clear line from the African Union in Addis Ababa.
The UN support for the intervention is, despite Deputy Asensi’s claims, also shaky. UN Security Council resolution 2085, negotiated in December, was to provide safeguards against an extension of any intervention. It is not clear that the French provided any safeguards to the UN before its 11 January bombardment of Konna. Paragraph eleven of the UN Resolution is fairly clear,
Emphasizes that the military planning will need to be further refined before the commencement of the offensive operation and requests that the Secretary-General, in close coordination with Mali, ECOWAS, the African Union, the neighbouring countries of Mali, other countries in the region and all other interested bilateral partners and international organizations, continue to support the planning and the preparations for the deployment of AFISMA [African Led Support Mission to Mali], regularly inform the Council of the progress of the process, and requests that the Secretary-General also confirm in advance the Council’s satisfaction with the planned military offensive operation.
The UN has been caught a bit wrong-footed, once more opening the door to an intervention with safeguards in place, but then watching one of its permanent members disregard the caution and its provisions as it bombs and kills civilians in the name of the UN. For the French Left to hide behind the UN, when it is exactly what the French military assault is doing, is to ridicule both the UN Charter and the entire tradition of anti-colonialism and human rights. France’s UN Ambassador Gerard Araud will brief the UN Security Council on Tuesday, 22 January. It is expected that he will reinforce the tired narrative: jihadis have to be stopped, France is only assisting the Malian government, and so on.
The French operation is called Serval, the African wild cat, whose figure is the symbol of the Italian island of Lampedusa – the gateway between Europe and Africa. During the Libyan war, Lampedusa became the contentious stopping point for Africans fleeing the crisis for Italy. Now, the herald of Lampedusa, the serval, blesses the jet fighters as they go in the other direction, bombing Africa as if by habit, throwing dust in the eyes of the world’s peoples. [++]
And the winner of the Oscar for Best Sequel of 2013 goes to… The Global War on Terror (GWOT), a Pentagon production. Abandon all hope those who thought the whole thing was over with the cinematographic snuffing out of “Geronimo”, aka Osama bin Laden, further reduced to a fleeting cameo in the torture-enabling flick Zero Dark Thirty.
It’s now official - coming from the mouth of the lion, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, and duly posted at the AFRICOM site, the Pentagon’s weaponized African branch. Exit “historical” al-Qaeda, holed up somewhere in the Waziristans, in the Pakistani tribal areas; enter al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). In Dempsey’s words, AQIM “is a threat not only to the country of Mali, but the region, and if… left unaddressed, could in fact become a global threat.”
With Mali now elevated to the status of a “threat” to the whole world, GWOT is proven to be really open-ended. The Pentagon doesn’t do irony; when, in the early 2000s, armchair warriors coined the expression “The Long War”, they really meant it.
Even under President Obama 2.0’s “leading from behind” doctrine, the Pentagon is unmistakably gunning for war in Mali - and not only of the shadow variety. General Carter Ham, AFRICOM’s commander, already operates under the assumption Islamists in Mali will “attack American interests”.
Thus, the first 100 US military “advisers” are being sent to Niger, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Togo and Ghana - the six member-nations of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) that will compose an African army tasked (by the United Nations) to reconquer (invade?) the parts of Mali under the Islamist sway of AQIM, its splinter group MUJAO and the Ansar ed-Dine militia. This African mini-army, of course, is paid for by the West.
Students of the Vietnam War will be the first to note that sending “advisers” was the first step of the subsequent quagmire. And on a definitely un-Pentagonese ironic aside, the US over these past few years did train Malian troops. A lot of them duly deserted. As for the lavishly, Fort Benning-trained Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, not only did he lead a military coup against an elected Mali government but also created the conditions for the rise of the Islamists.
Nobody, though, is paying attention. [must read]
Talking up further escalations of military involvement in Northern Africa in the wake of the Algeria hostage crisis, British Prime Minister David Cameron urged an “iron resolve” for a growing military engagement in the region that could last many decades.
The heads of Britain’s top spy agencies as well as the Chief of the Defence Staff are planning a Tuesday meeting to begin planning for a broad war across the entire Sahel, a region spanning Africa from east to west from Eritrea to the coast of Senegal and including several hotbed areas in the Sahara desert.
British officials say they will use their current chairmanship of the G8 to push for broad international backing for a war across the entire region, attempting to turn the hostage situation into a 9/11-style excuse for regional war.
“Just as we had to deal with that in Pakistan and in Afghanistan, so the world needs to come together to deal with this threat in north Africa.” Cameron insisted. Last weekend’s French invasion of Mali may have been the first round of this war, but it is clear from Cameron’s speech it won’t be the last.
“It appears the French had one of their wars going on thereabouts.” — Charlie Marlow from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness
The vision that Conrad’s character Marlow describes is of a French frigate firing broadsides into a vast African jungle, in essence, bombarding a continent. That image came to mind this week when French Mirages and helicopter gunships went into action against a motley army of Islamic insurgents in Mali.
That there is a surge of instability in that land-locked and largely desert country should hardly come as a surprise to the French: they and their allies are largely the cause.
And they were warned.
A little history. On Mar. 17, 2011, the UN Security Council approved Resolution 1973 to “protect civilians” in the Libyan civil war. Two days later, French Mirages began bombing runs on Muammar Gaddafi’s armored forces and airfields, thus igniting direct intervention by Britain, along with Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Resolution 1973 did not authorize NATO and its allies to choose sides in the Libyan civil war, just to protect civilians, and many of those who signed on—including Russia and China—assumed that Security Council action would follow standard practice and begin by first exploring a political solution. But the only kind of “solution” that anti-Gaddafi alliance was interested in was the kind delivered by 500-lb. laser-guided bombs.
The day after the French attack, the African Union (AU) held an emergency session in Mauritania in an effort to stop the fighting. The AU was deeply worried that, if Libya collapsed without a post-Gaddafi plan in place, it might destabilize other countries in the region. They were particularly concerned that Libya’s vast arms storehouse might end up fueling local wars in other parts of Africa.
However, no one in Washington, Paris or London paid the AU any mind, and seven months after France launched its attacks, Libya imploded into its current status as a failed state. Within two months, Tuaregs—armed with Gaddafi’s weapons’ cache—rose up and drove the corrupt and ineffectual Malian Army out of Northern Mali.
The Tuaregs are desert people, related to the Berbers that populate North Africa’s Atlas Mountain range. They have fought four wars with the Malian government since the country was freed from France in 1960, and many Tuaregs want to form their own country, “Azawed.” But the simmering discontent in northern Mali is not limited to the Tuaregs. Other ethnic groups are angered over the south’s studied neglect of all the people in the country’s north.
The Tuaregs are also currently fighting the French over uranium mining in Niger.
The Gaddafi government had long supported the Tuareg’s demands for greater self-rule, and many Tuareg’s served in the Libyan Army. Is anyone surprised that those Tuareg’s looted Libyan arms depots when the central government collapsed? And, once they had all that fancy fire power that they would put it to use in an effort to carve out a country of their own? [READ]
[…] The war in Mali is a direct result of the Euro-American aggression against Libya. The Tuareg people live in deep poverty. Many found employment in Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, as did immigrant workers from elsewhere in Africa. Some worked with Libyan security services. When Libya’s government was brought down by the U.S. and its allies, the Tuaregs gathered up as many weapons as they could in the chaos and headed south for home.
Many other Tuaregs never left, and were employed by the Malian Army and its sugar daddy, the United States. The year after 9/11, the U.S. military established its Pan Sahel Initiative, enlisting the militaries of Mali, Niger, Chad and Mauritania into America’s so-called War on Terror on the African front. By 2005, the U.S. had added Algeria, Morocco, Senegal, Nigeria and Tunisia to what was now called the Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative. This was the beginning of AFRICOM, the U.S. Africa Military Command, which assumed control in 2008.
In Mali, the Americans relied heavily on Tuareg soldiers to fight their war against Islamists and independence fighterss in the northern part of the country. But when their Tuareg brothers returned from Libya, three of the four Malian military commanders in the north defected to the rebels , which then led to the virtual collapse of the Malian Army.
Now the French, as the former colonial master, have sent their warplanes to strike at the Tuareg fighters and are preparing to send in 2,500 French soldiers. A regional African force was not scheduled to come to the aid of the Malian army until September, but with the rebel advance and the French response, that timetable will be speeded up. The Americans will be arriving soon, with their massive airlift capacity. And soon the U.S. will have serious boots on the ground in Africa, when a 3,500-member combat brigade from Fort Riley, Kansas, arrives to hold exercises with military units from 35 African countries, later this year. It seems more likely that the brigade will find itself in an actual war in the Sahel.
Back in October of 2011, we wrote that NATO’s “attack on Libya threatens to set the whole northern tier of Africa ablaze,” providing “a pretext for further U.S. and French operations.” In the east, the Horn of Africa is already in flames, and central Africa has become a cemetery for millions. Now it is the Sahel’s turn to burn.
Northern Mali also has a large amount of uranium, and the whole area has been divided up into exploration concessions, and there are a number of companies that are just waiting for the chance to get in there. And also gold and oil.
Just a coincidence.
France now has 1,400 troops on the ground in Mali, more than half the total of 2,500 it plans to deploy in its former colony, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has said.
France is expected to more than triple its troop numbers in Mali as raids continue on Islamist insurgents following overnight air strikes on a small town that had been seized by the rebels.
Sources close to the French defence minister said the number of French troops deployed in the west African country would “gradually” reach 2,500. There are currently 800 French troops in Mali, with hundreds more on the way over the next few days.
France carried out a fifth day of air strikes in a vast desert area seized last year by an Islamist alliance, which combines al-Qaida’s north African wing, AQIM, with Mali’s home-grown Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (Mojwa) and Ansar Dine rebel groups.
In a news conference in the United Arab Emirates, the French president, Franç ois Hollande said France had three aims: to stop the rebel advances, to secure the capital, Bamako, and to help the Mali government regain control of the whole country.
He said France would take a lesser role “as soon as there is an African force, in coming days or weeks”, adding that France did not intend to stay.
Hollande said: “France should only intervene in Africa in exceptional circumstances and for a limited time. That’s what we will do.” In response to questions about a return to France’s controversial role in its former colonies, he said the Mali intervention, in an international legal framework with UN backing, had nothing to do with the practices of “a bygone era”.
But he added that France’s role was to ensure that “when we end our intervention, Mali is safe, has legitimate authorities, an electoral process and there are no more terrorists threatening its territory”.
Hollande is funny. In a “you sound just like a stupid American” sort of way.