Wednesday, April 4, 2012

How's That Coup Working Out For You?

That's a question that a group of army officers in the West African nation of Mali have to be asking themselves right about now.  Two weeks ago, a group of mid-level officers overthrew the democratically-elected government of President Amadou Toumani Toure over what they felt was President Toure's incompetent handling of the uprising by Tuareg tribesmen in the northern part of Mali, which began in January. 

But since a group of officers led by Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo siezed the presidential residence, Mali's army has been in disarray, and the Tuaregs have been taking full advantage, seizing a string of Malian cities, including the historic Timbuktu.  For their part, the Tuaregs say that they launched their uprising in response to continued oppression by the Malian government in Bamako, located in the southern part of the country.  The Tuaregs are fighting for an independent homeland that they would carve out of the northern section of Mali.  They have dubbed their militia the “National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad”; there are reports that the Tuareg numbers have been bolstered by fighters formerly employed by Moammar Gadhafi's regime- since the Libyan leaders is known to have favored Tuareg mercenaries for their loyalty and fearsome reputation across west Africa.  Of course, since Gadhafi's downfall, these men have been mercenaries without a job.

The Malian military was upset by the government's handling of the uprising and by the heavy casualties they were taking in fighting the Tuaregs.  But many international observers are saying that the actions of Capt. Sanogo and his fellow coup plotters were impulsive, and that they seized the presidential residence without any plan as to what to do next.  That their coup seems to be having the exact opposite of its intended effect – rather than improving its effectiveness, the military campaign against the Tuaregs has all but fallen apart – seems to back up this assessment.  To make matters worse, it has been discovered that Capt. Sanogo was actually one of a group of elite Malian soldiers who were selected to receive advanced anti-terroristtraining in the United States, which makes you wonder just what the US was teaching these “elite” soldiers since they seem to have totally screwed up their own anti-insurgency campaign with the coup they impulsively decided to stage against a president who was scheduled to leave office next month anyway.

What happens now is anybody's guess.  Mali's neighbors are taking moves to seal their borders, isolating Mali in response to the coup.  But, at the same time, it is clear that the Tuareg uprising has gotten past the Malian army's ability to handle, so without foreign assistance, it is likely to continue.  Also in question are the whereabouts of President Toure, who hasn't been seen since the coup.  Everyone seems to agree that he is safe, somewhere within the country, though reports then differ, suggesting that he is either trying to seek asylum with the French government, or that he is being protected by a cadre of loyal soldiers, which also suggests the possibility of a counter-coup.   
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