France’s Mali Folly: Recalling French War Crimes Amid Paris’ Claims of Russian ‘Smear Campaign’
15:29 GMT 04.05.2022 (Updated: 16:38 GMT 04.05.2022)
© FLORENT VERGNESFrench soldiers patrol Timbuktu for the last time, in front of the Great Mosque, a few hours before the handover ceremony of the Barkhane military base to the Malian army in Timbuktu, on December 14, 2021.
© FLORENT VERGNES
The landlocked West African nation of Mali renounced its military cooperation agreement with France on Monday, with ties between the two countries on the brink over a mass grave discovered by Malian troops near a vacated French base that Paris claims was planted there by Russian mercenaries.
The diplomatic flap between Mali and France over the gruesome 21 April discovery of a mass grave outside a military base in Gossi, northern Mali continues to intensify. A preliminary investigation by the Malian military said that the state of the bodies’ decomposition “indicates that this mass grave existed well before the [French] handover” of the facility to the Malian side. The remains were found two days after French forces left the base.
Reporting by local media provided additional details on the suspected war crime, including info that the bodies may have been those of a group of local shepherds suspected of having been kidnapped by French troops prior to their withdrawal. Malian authorities have vowed to investigate further.
Paris has denied its forces’ involvement, and claimed that Bamako-allied mercenaries from the Wagner Group, a Russian private military company, brought and dumped the bodies near the Gossi base to implicate the French Army. Paris accompanied its allegations with grainy drone footage of unidentified men in military gear standing near and manipulating bodies close to the facility. When asked by the BBC to share higher-quality video, the French military said it couldn’t do so for “security reasons.”
In a statement in late April, the Russian Foreign Ministry blasted Paris over the "mercenary" claims and suggested French authorities were trying to “shift the blame” for their sins amid the Malian military’s “success in cleansing the republic from the terrorist threat” better than French forces have over nine years of fighting. Moscow called on Paris to “assist in the investigation of the disappearances and murders of Malian citizens”.
Last month’s incident isn’t the first time that French forces, which intervened in Mali in early 2013, ostensibly to fight Islamist extremists, have been accused of crimes against the African nation’s civilian population. Here’s a list of some of the other criminal activity they’ve been accused of engaging in over the course of their 9+ years of operations.
Airstrike on Wedding Party
In March 2021, a comprehensive investigation by MINUSMA, the UN’s peacekeeping force in Mali, concluded that a French air strike on the village of Bounti, central Mali killed 19 civilians at a wedding celebration on 3 January of the same year. The French government claimed the strike eliminated 30 Islamist fighters north of the village. After MINUSMA released its report, the French Army again denied that it had done anything wrong, saying it “cannot consider that this report provides any evidence contradicting the facts as described earlier by the French Armed Forces”.
Two other incidents in which civilians were killed were reported in 2021. On 25 March, French airstrikes reportedly killed at least five civilians in the area of Agarnadamoss in the Gao region during an attack on an “armed group”. On 1 April, a French counterterrorism operation in Edjerer in the country’s northeast ended in the death of one civilian and another being injured.
© AP Photo / MOULAYE SAYAHFrench Barkhane forces patrol the streets of Timbuktu, Mali, Wednesday Sept. 29, 2021.
French Barkhane forces patrol the streets of Timbuktu, Mali, Wednesday Sept. 29, 2021.
© AP Photo / MOULAYE SAYAH
Bus Attack, Funeral Procession Strike
On 20 September 2020, outside the northern city of Gao, French troops fired on a civilian passenger bus, killing one and injuring two others after the bus failed to slow down at an army checkpoint.
On 17 May 2020, Operation Barkhane forces shot and killed an ethnic Tuareg civilian riding on a motorbike during crossfire while fighting Islamist fighters in Tin-Hama, northeast Mali.
On 7 February of the same year, a French airstrike hit a funeral procession for suspected militants in Fatawada, central Mali, killing at least fourteen Tuareg civilians in the process.
On 8 June 2019, three civilians were killed and a vehicle destroyed after French forces opened fire outside Lerneb, central Mali.
On 26 August 2018, a French combined ground and air assault in the Gao hamlet of Infoukaretane against Islamist forces killed a woman and child, and injured two other civilians.
© AP Photo / Jerome Delay / This Feb. 6, 2013, file photo shows French armoured vehicles heading towards the Niger border before making a left turn north in Gao, northern Mali.
This Feb. 6, 2013, file photo shows French armoured vehicles heading towards the Niger border before making a left turn north in Gao, northern Mali.
© AP Photo / Jerome Delay /
Aiding and Abetting Kidnap and Murder
In late 2020, a UN report to the Security Council alleged that in 2017, the French Army was implicated in kidnapping when, during a joint operation with Malian and Bukinabe forces, a group of civilian men was arrested by Malian forces from two villages near Mondoro, eastern Mali and threatened with execution if they did not confess to being “extremists”. Three of the men were said to have died in captivity at an army camp. France 24 reported on the incident, but did not reveal details on the role played by French forces in the suspected crime.
On 30 November 2016, a French helicopter gunship patrol killed a minor in a village outside the commune of Tessalit, northern Mali.
Bad Start to ‘Anti-Terror’ Campaign
In the spring of 2013, Amnesty International reported that a joint aerial operation by French and Malian forces killed five civilians, including three children, in an air strike in Konna, central Mali on 11 January – the same day that the French military intervention in the country began. The French Armed Forces denied any involvement in the incident, blaming Mali’s military.
© Maeva BambuckFrench forces patrol in the desert of Northern Mali along the border with Niger on the outskirts of Asongo, Northern Mali.
French forces patrol in the desert of Northern Mali along the border with Niger on the outskirts of Asongo, Northern Mali.
‘Counterterrorism’ or Security and Economic Interests?
When French President Francois Hollande announced the French operation in Mali in 2013, he characterised it as a “fight against terrorism”. However, according to Malian academic Mady Ibrahim Kante, instead of crushing terror, the operation was launched “to ensure the protection of French security and economic interests in the Sahel Region and West Africa” generally.
In a piece for The Conversation published late last year, Kante pointed out that after more than eight years of war, the security situation in his country had not improved, and only served to exacerbate internal ethnic division and strife.
Last October, Malian Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga said he had evidence that French officers were secretly training terrorists in the country’s north. French officers, Maiga alleged, were coordinating with an al-Qaeda-linked terror group known as Ansara-al-Din and other jihadists “from Libya”. Maiga recalled that the French-led NATO intervention in Libya had spawned the terrorist threat coming from that country, and said the situation in Mali had become worse after French intervention than it was before it.
17 February 2022, 08:43 GMT