September 23, 2012

Implications of Mali's Brutal Massacre

The chain reaction within a chain reaction began innocently at a bridge before descending into lawlessness. En route to a religious conference in Mali's capital of Bamako, a bus of Mauritanian preachers stopped at a military checkpoint on the night of September 8th. Mali soldiers would search the bus after becoming suspicious of a young bearded man, only to find common items in place of weapons and extremist paraphernalia. The soldiers then packed the men into a truck and took them to their camp in Diabaly, sprayed the vehicle with bullets, buried the bodies and launched a search for witnesses.

An investigative account of Mali's religious killings is as horrific as one can reasonably expect, if the imagination is forced to recreate the visceral experience of escaping a death camp for five days - only to be caught and detained again. That is the story of Mohamed, the lone surviver of Diabaly's cold-blooded massacre. Collapsing behind his friends' lifeless bodies and scaling a wall bought him five days of misery in the wild, and a weeks-long detention just ended after the Mauritanian government pressured for his release. A large section of the Associated Press's report is based on his testimony, underscoring how easily Diabaly's events could have disappeared into the night.

Mohamed's account, when pieced with information from other witnesses and government officials, reveals a common fear emanating from the capital. Already mired in the remnants of a coup and unable to organize a counterattack against non-state actors in the north, Mali's army is suffering from a lack of disciple, morale and civilian oversight. The accused soldiers themselves are suspected of acting under their own volition, however the government bears responsibility for several key errors that affect Mali's overall situation. In attempting to explain the soldiers' actions, a memo was leaked to provide evidence that they had been ordered to monitor visiting members of the Dawa Tablighi sect and "limit their entry into the country."

This appeal to discrimination will die a swift death with northern Muslims, gift-wrap propaganda for a network of Islamic militias and reinforce the mistrust of Mali's southern population all at once.

Rather than cooperate with the army, local police and gendarmes live in fear of doing their job and appear to receive limited support from the capital. Two gendarmes radioed in the situation to their superior and were ordered to send a policeman to follow the military convoy on his scooter. The massacre was committed as they argued their case in the commander's office, leading the senior gendarmerie commander to remark that soldiers regularly act without the consent of their superiors. All government witnesses in question spoke anonymously "out of fear for their safety."

This fear is justified by the Malian government's disregard for accountability and transparency; several civilian witnesses were lucky to escape the military's harassment. Still refusing to take full responsibility, the government has tried its best to bury as much of the story as possible. Its initial response denied that the preachers were peaceful and linked them to Islamic extremists. After Mauritania's outrage forced Bamako to recant, blame was laid onto a "lone soldier" to cover up a camp's worth of abuses. Even now the government continues to excuse its soldiers' behavior in public and manipulate the night of September 8th. Colonel Idrissa Traore, director of the military's public relations, admitted that the soldiers violated "command structure" before repeating the link between Dawa and Ansar Dine chief Iyad al Ghani.

He claims that the military held Mohamed for a week due to his "bad psychological state," a narrative that Mohamed rejects.

This general disarray partly explains the urgent concern of Western and African powers as they draft contingencies to retake Mali's northern territory. While the government has been tentatively assigned a military role in conjunction the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), foreign governments reluctantly accept the fact that Mali is incapable of fighting for and, more importantly, governing the north. The government's civilian and military command structure is too disrupted to pursue a successful counterinsurgency over a periodic years. These conditions (plus U.S. and European political factors) indicate that any type of foreign intervention is months away from deploying into a complex asymmetric environment.

No comments:

Post a Comment