Originally published in Rolling Stone
As U.S. drones continue to rain Hellfire missiles down from the Yemen sky, another region of the world is undergoing a transition that could have a significant impact on how America approaches its counter-terrorism policies in the coming years. The citizens of Mali elected ex-Prime Minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita as their next president in a run-off vote earlier this week, defeating his long-time political rival, Soumaila Cisse, a former finance minister. The election will unlock $4 billion in foreign aid, and was praised by international observers. It comes after a year of massive instability in that country, including a coup by U.S.-trained Malian military members and a rebellion in the North that resulted in a French-led intervention to defeat an alliance between Tuaregs – a separatist ethnic group in the North – and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), one of several Islamist groups in the region.
Prior to the coup, the U.S. military had trained members of Mali’s security forces as part of a wider counter-terrorism training operation in West Africa. The first iteration of that program, announced in 2002, was called the Pan-Sahel Initiative, and included Mali, Niger, Chad and Mauritania. “Since then, three of the four militaries have staged coups,” says Michael McGovern, a political anthropologist who specializes in West Africa. He stresses that correlation doesn’t equal causation, and that “the coups may have happened without U.S. involvement.”
The military takeover in Mali triggered what’s known as the Leahy amendment, which, among other things, prohibits the U.S. from providing military training to governments that have come to power in a coup. That meant the U.S. military officially had to leave the country – although a car accident on Martyrs Bridge involving three special operations forces showed that at least a small U.S. presence stayed behind.