|Volume 50 Number 8, March 7, 2020||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
News agencies are reporting that the government is significantly stepping up its military intervention in West Africa, allegedly to help combat what is being referred to as the world's fastest growing insurgency in that region, although this announcement was made by the Ministry of Defence several months ago. At that time the Defence Secretary claimed that this was part of the government's "humanitarian and security efforts in the Sahel". The government claims that at the same time it is stepping up its role in "tackling the underlying causes of poverty and conflict" in countries of the Sahel such as Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.
Around thirty British soldiers and marines are already deployed in Senegal, apparently engaged in training nearly 2,000 local special forces troops from several other African countries, including Nigeria, Senegal, Cameroon and Morocco, in what is referred to as a "counter-terrorism exercise" led by the United States in the Sahel. Later this year, 250 British soldiers of the Specialised Infantry Group (SIG) will join the United Nations-led MINUSMA mission in Mali. The SIG was first established in 2017 to partner foreign armed forces. They are officially described as existing "to increase the Army's contribution to countering terrorism and building stability overseas". Although the deployment in Mali is being reported in the media as "Britain's first significant deployment to an active war zone" for some years, forces from the SIG have been deployed in Nigeria, and British special forces have also been active in Libya. According to the Ministry of Defence, the deployment of the SIG in Mali will initially be for three years.
Representatives of the US and British military are claiming that military intervention in the Sahel is justified because, allegedly, if they do not act then those they describe as "extremists" will be in a position to launch attacks on Europe and the United States. Certainly, there are those who are fighting against foreign intervention in the African continent, as well as against governments in such countries as Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Nigeria. What is conveniently forgotten is that the US military has been carrying out a so-called "counter-terrorism exercise" in the region for almost twenty years, indeed long before there was any sign of an insurgency, which, it is now claimed, is linked to such sinister organisations as Islamic State and al-Qaeda. The US-led Pan-Sahel Initiative was first launched in 2002. It was then followed by the US-led Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Partnership in 2005 with nine African countries including Mali, Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Senegal. From 2008 this programme was organised under the auspices of the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM). It could be said, therefore, that if the US and its allies are claiming that they are in the Sahel to counter "terrorism", then by their own admission they have already failed.
It is evident that increased military intervention by the US, Britain and France has done nothing to curb non-state military activities in the region. France already has over 4,500 troops in the region and has recently deployed 600 more as part of what is referred to as Operation Berkhane, a military initiative in which France is partnered with five of its former African colonies: Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mauritania and Chad (the Sahel G5), which have their own 5,000-strong joint military force. France, which intervened in 2013, has stationed troops in the Sahel for over seven years and has already lost nearly forty of its soldiers. Since 2016, British troops, as well as the RAF, have participated in Operation Berkhane also. EU military and civilian forces have been sent to Mali, allegedly to strengthen internal security and combat human trafficking and "irregular" migration. In 2013, the UN launched its own MINUSMA peacekeeping mission in Mali with over 16,000 troops. MINUSMA is said to be the most dangerous UN mission in the world and already nearly 200 of the UN forces have lost their lives, most of them African soldiers. Although the new deployment of British troops is also being described as a peacekeeping mission, it is difficult to square this description with the long-range reconnaissance patrols that will be the stated central aim, nor the overall situation in the Sahel. The militarisation of the Sahel naturally mostly affects the people of that region. It was reported recently that violent deaths have increased fivefold in the region since 2016. In 2019 there were more than 4000 such deaths, and in Burkina Faso alone, violent deaths increased from eighty in 2016 to nearly 2,000 last year. It is now anticipated that such violence and instability may also extend to other states in West Africa, including Ghana, Ivory Coast, Benin and Togo.
The militarisation of the Sahel has done nothing to enhance security for the people of the region or to curb "extremism"; quite the opposite. Rather, it has the appearance of a new invasion of Africa, which has created the conditions for wide-scale opposition, including armed opposition, both to the foreign invaders and the governments which collaborate with them and fail to provide for the basic needs and rights of their citizens. It cannot be forgotten that the pursuit of regime-change in Libya, championed by Britain, France and the US, and facilitated by NATO military intervention in 2011, has only added to widespread economic and political instability across significant sections of North and West Africa, as well as unleashing various sinister forces. It also appears that countries are contending with each other to provide "security training" and offer other forms of military "support" to African countries. One of the most significant recent developments is the China-Africa Defence and Security Forum first launched in 2018 and the first China-Africa Peace and Security Forum held in 2019. China currently participates in five of the seven different UN peacekeeping missions in Africa, including MINUSMA, and has demonstrated that in this arena too it is willing to compete with the US and its allies.
There can be no justification for Britain's increasing military intervention in the Sahel under the guise of "humanitarianism", nor "peace-keeping", nor "counter-terrorism". Such intervention has only created greater instability, violence and insecurity in the region. The deep-seated problems of the region, most of them the consequence of colonialism and neo-colonialism, cannot and must not be solved by external force and violence, nor by the extension of internal police powers. The question is posed as to why Britain and the other big powers are so interested in this region. It is certainly not out of humanitarian motives. The demand of those vitally interested in peace is that all military and other forms of intervention be immediately brought to an end.