A hostage crisis is underway in Mali, where suspected Islamist militants have stormed a luxury hotel in the capital Bamako and taken over 180 people hostage. Malian special forces have launched a rescue operation and exchanged fire with the militants inside. Dozens of people have reportedly been freed, while at least three deaths have been confirmed. Mali has faced a radical insurgency since 2012, when Islamist militants seized northern areas. A French-led intervention ousted them the following year, but violence continues across the country. For context on the hostage crisis in Mali, we turn to Nick Turse, whose book “Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa” explores the expanding American battlefield in Africa, where the U.S. military is now involved in more than 90 percent of Africa’s 54 nations. Turse discusses how the U.S.-backed intervention in Libya helped fuel the ongoing militant violence in nearby Mali. Watch the original interview here, plus Part 2, and Part 3.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: A hostage crisis is underway in Mali, where suspected Islamist militants have stormed a luxury hotel in the capital Bamako. The gunmen opened fire while taking over 180 people hostage. At least three deaths have been confirmed so far. Malian special forces have launched a rescue operation and have exchanged fire with the militants inside. Dozens of people have reportedly been freed so far, as Malian commandos go door to door. There are reports the captors have released those hostages who are Muslim, while keeping those who are not.
AMY GOODMAN: Mali has faced a radical insurgency for over three years. Islamist militants seized northern Mali in 2012. A French-led intervention ousted them the following year, but violence continues across the country.
For context on this hostage crisis in Mali, though we don’t know a lot of details, last week we spoke to Nick Turse, who’s the author of the book Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa. Turse focuses on the expanding American battlefield in Africa, where he says the U.S. military is now involved in more than 90 percent of Africa’s 54 nations. In a recent interview with Democracy Now!, he discussed how the U.S.-backed intervention in Libya helped fuel the ongoing militant violence in nearby Mali.
NICK TURSE: One example is the case of Mali, where you had a U.S.-trained officer who overthrew the democratically elected government there just two years ago. You know, this was—Mali was supposed to be a bulwark against terrorism. It was supposed to be a stable success story. Instead you have that occurrence. Then, last year, a U.S.-trained officer overthrew the government of Burkina Faso. You know, this is—I think it’s troubling.
And you hear the talk about professionalism of the military and that they’re instilling values, human rights, these sorts of things. But, yeah, in reality, what we’re seeing on the continent is very different. And if you look at the groups that we’re training on the continent, the militaries we’re training, and then you compare them to the State Department’s own list of militaries that are carrying out human rights abuses, that are acting in undemocratic ways, you see that these are the same forces. The U.S. is linked up with forces that are generally seen as repressive, even by our own government.
AMY GOODMAN: What is the U.S. interest in Africa?
NICK TURSE: Well, it’s difficult to say for sure. I think that the U.S. has viewed Africa as a place of weak governance, you know, sort of a zone that’s prone to terrorism, and that there can be a spread of terror groups on the continent if the U.S. doesn’t intervene. So, you know, there’s generally only one tool in the U.S. toolkit, and that’s a hammer. And unfortunately, then, everywhere they see nails.
AMY GOODMAN: What were you most surprised by in “The Drone Papers” that you got a hold of, a kind of—what’s been described as perhaps a second Edward Snowden, this project of The Intercept that you wrote about, particularly when it came to Africa?
NICK TURSE: Well, I think it’s really just how far the proliferation of drone bases has spread on the continent. You know, I’ve been looking at this for years, but “The Drone Papers” drove home to me just how integral drones have become to the U.S. way of warfare on the continent. You know, I think this feeds into President Obama’s strategy, trying to get away from large-footprint interventions, you know, the disasters that we’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s leaned heavily now on special operations forces and on drones. And so, I think that’s probably the most surprising aspect.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of the reports that we get here, you basically—there’s either news about Boko Haram or al-Shabab or the disintegration, continuing disintegration, of Libya. To what extent have these special operations focused on these areas, and to what extent have they had any success?
NICK TURSE: Well, I think that Libya is actually a—it’s a great example of the best intentions gone awry by the U.S. The U.S. joined a coalition war to oust dictator Muammar Gaddafi. And I think that it was seen as a great success. Gaddafi fell, and it seemed like U.S. policies had played out just as they were drawn up in Washington. Instead, though, we saw that Libya has descended into chaos, and it’s been a nightmare for the Libyan people ever since—a complete catastrophe.
And it then had a tendency to spread across the continent. Gaddafi had Tuaregs from Mali who worked for him. They were elite troops. As his regime was falling, the Tuaregs raided his weapons stores, and they moved into Mali, into their traditional homeland, to carve out their own nation there. When they did that, the U.S.-backed military in Mali, that we had been training for years, began to disintegrate. That’s when the U.S.-trained officer decided that he could do a better job, overthrew the democratically elected government. But he proved no better at fighting the Tuaregs than the government he overthrew. As a result, Islamist rebels came in and pushed out his forces and the Tuaregs, and were making great gains in the country, looked poised to take it over.
The U.S. decided to intervene again, another military intervention. We backed the French and an African force to go in and stop the Islamists. We were able to, with these proxies—which is the preferred method of warfare on the African continent—arrest the Islamists’ advance, but now Mali has descended into a low-level insurgency. And it’s been like this for several years now. The weapons that the Tuaregs originally had were taken by the Islamists and have now spread across the continent. You can find those weapons in the hands of Boko Haram now, even as far away as Sinai in Egypt. So, now, the U.S. has seen this as a way to stop the spread of militancy, but I think when you look, you see it just has spread it.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Nick Turse, author of Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa. Again, we spoke to him last week, before the latest developments today in Bamako, Mali. The latest details: A hostage crisis is underway, where suspected Islamist militants have stormed the Radisson hotel. The gunmen opened fire while taking about 180 people hostage. At least three deaths have been confirmed so far. Malian special forces have launched a rescue operation and have exchanged fire with the militants inside. Dozens of people have reportedly been freed so far as Malian commandos go door to door. We’ll bring you more through the weekend. Check our website at democracynow.org. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, a Democracy Now! exclusive. Please stay with us.