Mali’s security situation has become “significantly worse” due to the ruling junta’s choices, including an alleged decision to partner with Wagner, a Russian private security firm, a senior US official said Wednesday.
Mali‘s ruling junta, which seized power in 2020, has turned away from its traditional ally France and towards Russia in its fight against a decade-long jihadist insurgency but it denies links to Wagner.
“The United States‘ ability to help Mali on the security side is greatly constrained now… by the choice that the Mali government made to get into bed with Wagner,” Victoria Nuland, the US State Department’s Under Secretary for political affairs, told reporters from Washington in an online press briefing following a four-day visit to the Sahel.
The United States, France and other Western nations accuse the junta of hiring Wagner, which Malian authorities deny. They say they are cooperating with Russia’s army on a state-to-state level.
“The Malian junta has invited in Wagner and terrorism has gotten signficantly worse”, Nuland said, claiming that “incidents of terror” had risen some 30 percent over the past six months.
The junta claims to have turned a corner in the fight against the insurgency and put jihadist groups on the run in recent months.
Nuland said there were “broad reports of human rights abuses across the region where (Wagner forces) are working” and accused the operatives of giving “malfunctioning” equipment to Mali’s army and encouraging it to deny the United Nations (UN) peacekeeping mission access to “large swathes” of the country.
The mission, MINUSMA, has itself complained that the junta is limiting its operations.
“We worry that these forces are not interested in the safety and security of the people of Mali, but instead are interested in enriching themselves and strip-mining the country — and are making the terrorism situation worse.”
She said their presence had constrained American operations in the country.
“We are just not going to operate in the same space, even if we were invited to or able to, because of the negative way (Wagner forces) operate, their human rights abuses, the way they treat people”, she said. -AFP