Mar. 27 (GIN) – A rowdy band of undisciplined junior officers marauded through the streets of Bamako in the West African nation of Mali, after sacking Mali’s president in a mutiny earlier this week that left residents of this quiet democracy-loving nation aghast and horrified.
Mali, revered worldwide as the home of blues music, guitarist Ali Farka Toure, Salif Keita and other renowned singers and musicians, was the most unlikely place for an uprising of officers, many of whom were recently trained by a contingent of U.S. special operations forces stationed there.
Elite commandos from the 19th Special Forces Group, based in Utah, have been working with Malian and other African militaries as part of an effort to stop al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) from expanding its influence across the Sahara. It was felt at the Pentagon that Mali’s President Amadou Toumani Toure was not doing enough to tackle AQIM or the smuggling of drugs, arms and Western hostages across the desert.
Mali also faces an uprising of a nomadic group known as the Tuaregs, whose lifestyle of pastoralism has been nearly decimated by the growth of cities in the region and the division of their traditional territory into parcels in Mali, Niger, Algeria, Morocco, Libya and Burkina Faso.
Now carrying weapons supplied by former Libyan leader Moamar Gaddafi, Tuaregs have been gaining territory in Mali’s northern desert expanse where they are seeking to carve out a homeland. Captain Amadou Sanogo, the little-known junta leader, has promised to end the Tuareg insurgency.
“No one really wants to see armed attacks on these Tuareg groups,” said Mariam Djibrilla Maiga president of a group that organized a recent peace forum. “But people hear a hard line from the rebels – independence or nothing,” she told a reporter with the Voice of America. “This is why part of the population says we must use the military route – even though Maiga thinks the solution is to talk.”
Washington sends Mali about $170 billion a year in assistance, funds that go to everything from agriculture development to military training for counterterrorism work, according to State Department and USAID budget documents.