Andrew Young has been the Deputy Commander of Civil-Military Engagement at the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) since July 2020. The Combatant Command is responsible for coordinating all United States military and security activities with African countries. As a former US Ambassador to Burkina Faso, Young knows the Sahel well.
In the following interview, he insists on the need to support democratic transitions in the region – a point far from trivial given the fact that after Washington suspended its aid to Malian security forces in response to Assimi GoÃ¯ta’s coup in late May, the US State Department said he was considering “targeted measures against the leadership that hamper Mali’s civilian-led transition to democratic governance.”
Days before France announced it was temporarily suspending joint military operations with Mali, Washington made a similar decision. Could these movements end up being counterproductive?
Andrew Young: We remain committed to Mali, as evidenced by our development assistance and diplomatic efforts to support progress in good governance.
We have decided to suspend our military cooperation because we believe that the restoration of democracy is essential in order to find a long-term solution to the challenges facing Mali.
Under what conditions would you resume cooperation?
Our terms are clear: Mali must reaffirm its commitment to a democratic transition and organize a presidential election in accordance with the agreed timetable, therefore in February 2022. We are not ready to compromise on this point.
Our second request is that they respect the peace agreement signed in Algiers in 2015, which stipulated the end of hostilities between Bamako and the Coordination of Azawad movements. [CMA].
Does the US government, as French President Emmanuel Macron recently reaffirmed, draw a “red line” when it comes to negotiating with the jihadists?
It depends on which jihadists you are referring to. We cannot negotiate with those who carry out attacks on civilians, kill children and defend a worldview incompatible with values ââsuch as democracy and tolerance.
But as for those who were recruited and found themselves trapped by the jihadist, we can find a way around that. Take, for example, what happened after the liberation of the Malian town of Gao in January 2013. Many people who had been courted by extremist groups subsequently reconsidered their decision and expressed remorse for their decision. involvement in such groups.
Can we extend an olive branch to these people?
Yes, I think so. It is difficult, but it is necessary, for the sake of reconciliation and dialogue between communities, to help those who want to leave these groups to reintegrate into society. We take this approach in Niger, for example, where we emphasize a three-pronged method of demobilization, de-radicalization and reintegration.
The United States is very active in the training of the armed forces of the sub-region. In view of Mali’s trajectory in recent months, do you feel any frustration? Should we review training programs?
US law states that we cannot conduct military training in countries where our interlocutors commit human rights violations. And the training we offer puts a lot of emphasis on protecting those rights. We do not want and cannot work with military forces that have committed human rights violations.
Is the training you offer really effective? Why, after all these years, does the Malian army suffer so many defeats at the hands of the jihadists?
First of all, the G5 Sahel Joint Force is responsible for the security of the region. Each member country has its own specificities. In Mali, for example, one of the demands of the authors of the coup [in August 2020] is to increase the competitiveness of the army so that it can meet the security challenges facing the country. The situation in Niger, where we have a long-standing partnership with the local armed forces, is different from the situation in Mali.
In Burkina Faso, the strategy of our engagement has changed, since we have been forming units for several years and monitoring their development over time. And things have changed since the attacks that targeted a hotel and a restaurant in Ouagadougou in 2016.
In 2018, the BurkinabÃ¨ special forces succeeded in tracking down the perpetrators of the attack on the Aziz Istanbul cafÃ© in Ouagadougou. Burkina Faso’s defense and security forces also responded to a double attack on the French embassy and the Burkinabe army headquarters. This demonstrates the effectiveness of the training we provide to our partners.
Recently, several sources reported the death of Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the Islamist militant group Boko Haram which flourished in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region. Is Washington able to corroborate this information?
We are working closely with our Nigerian partners, and the Multinational Joint Force in particular, but I cannot give a definitive answer to your question.
Whether in the Central African Republic, Libya or Mali, Moscow has undeniably extended its influence on the continent in recent years. Does this concern you?
If you look at the statistics on Russia and the challenges the country faces, I think that answers your question. The United States, for its part, has bilateral relations with its African allies and these are countries that share our philosophy.
Our engagement with African states centers on supporting democratic transitions led by civilians. This is why I went to Sudan in 2019 after the ousting of Omar al-Bashir, and why I went to Kinshasa after Felix Tshisekedi took office. It is true that democracy is in decline all over the world. It should bother us. It is important that we have the necessary energy to counter this loss of democracy.