The commander of U.S. Africa Command today shared lessons learned from what he called shortcomings in the U.S.-Malian training program which have contributed to turmoil in the African nation.
Army General Carter F. Ham spoke to students and faculty here at the Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center at Howard University, home to the nation’s oldest Africa Studies program.
“We have had a U.S. training effort with the Malian armed forces for some number of years,” he said. “Some of that has occurred in Mali, and some of that was Malian officers coming to the U.S. for training, to include, Captain [Amadou] Sanogo, who led the military coup which overthrew the constitutionally-elected government.”
“[This is] very worrisome for us,” Ham said. “So we looked at that, and we asked ourselves these questions: First of all, did we miss the signs that this was happening? And was there anything that we did in our training that could have been done differently, perhaps, and have caused a different outcome?”
The general said he believes the answer is “a little bit of both.”
From a purely military standpoint, Ham said, U.S. forces focused Malian training almost exclusively on tactical and technical matters such as operating equipment, improving tactical effectiveness and aerial re-supply to remote bases.
“All of which is very, very good,” he said. “We didn’t spend, probably, the requisite time focusing on values, ethics and military ethos.”
“When you put on the uniform of your nation, then you accept the responsibility to defend and protect that nation, to abide by the legitimate civilian authority that has been established,” Ham said.
Additionally, he said, military members should act lawfully and see themselves as servants to the people of their nation.
“We didn’t … [train] that to the degree that we needed to, I think,” Ham said. “I believe that we focused exclusively on tactical and technical [aspects]. So we’ve learned from that.”
The general also talked about what he views as four “inter-related problems,” to ending the turmoil in Mali.
“First is the restoration of the constitutional government in Bamako as a necessary precondition for a satisfactory solution,” Ham said. “Second is addressing the concerns of a largely disaffected population in the northern portion of the country.”
“Thirdly … is the existence in northern Mali, now, of al-Qaida and other terrorist and extremist organizations that undermine the rule of law,” he said. “They’ve eliminated the rule of law -- that’s got to be dealt with.”
The fourth problem, which Ham noted doesn’t get much attention but is patently the most difficult to address, is bad and worsening humanitarian conditions across the Sahel region of north-central Africa.
“If any one of those four problems existed, it would be a significant problem,” he said. “When all four of them exist simultaneously, it makes it increasingly complex.”
The resolution of those four issues, Ham said, would be the right end state in Bamako.
“The ability for that government to extend its reach into all portions of the country,” he said. “So territorial integrity of Mali is non-negotiable. No discussion of a separatist state or something like that.”
“Realistically, we would all like to see the elimination of al-Qaida and other [terrorist and insurgent groups] from northern Mali,” Ham said. “Realistically, probably the best you can get is containment and disruption, so that al-Qaida is no longer able to control territory [there] as they do today.”
The general said extended governance would also prevent extremist organizations from controlling the lives of citizens in the country’s population centers, particularly Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal.
“Those have to be freed and restored under Malian control,” Ham said. “So I think that is what I would see as the [desired] end state.”
Ham made it clear resolving these issues is a task for African nations and not the U.S.
“We very clearly see this from the U.S. government side, in fact and in perception, as an African-led endeavor that is done at the request of the Malian government and I think that’s well under way now,” he said.