March 22, 2017 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 174

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.


Topics: 2017 French presidential election campaign and the UN counterinsurgency mission in Mali. People: Bill and Nate. Produced: March 20th, 2017.

Episode 174 (51 min):
AFD 174

Further reading:
– 2014: “EU Elections, the Rising Populists, and Why Europe is Worried”
Our partial archives on Mali


RSS Feed: Arsenal for Democracy Feedburner
iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

Music by friend of the show @StuntBirdArmy.

Former peacekeeping role model tries to reject peacekeepers

2015 Burundian Constitutional Crisis


Burundi has consistently been one of the largest contributors to African Union peacekeeping forces for years, but when it comes time for an AU deployment in Burundi suddenly Burundi is a champion of national “sovereignty” and freedom from peacekeeper interference…

“Burundi lawmakers reject AU peacekeeping offer despite spiralling violence” – France24:

Burundi’s parliament on Monday criticised a proposed African Union peacekeeping mission already dismissed by the government as an “invasion force”.


US suspends big security aid programs in Burundi

Due to elections violence and continued risk of coup during the 2015 Burundian Constitutional Crisis, State Department and DOD pull the plug on Burundi for military and non-military security aid. The huge US peacekeeping training program is halted:

In response to the abuses committed by members of the police during political protests, we are suspending all International Law Enforcement Academy and Anti-Terrorism Assistance training that we provide to Burundian law enforcement agencies.

Recognizing that Burundi’s National Defense Force has generally acted professionally in protecting civilians during protests, the United States continues to value our partnership with the Burundian military and urges them to maintain professionalism and respect for the rule of law.

However, due to the instability caused by the Burundian Government’s disregard for the Arusha Agreement and its decision to proceed with flawed parliamentary elections, the United States is unable to conduct peacekeeping and other training in Burundi. As a result, the United States has suspended upcoming training for the Burundian military under the Department of Defense’s Section 1206 Train and Equip program, as well as training and assistance under the Africa Military Education Program.

We remain deeply concerned that the current crisis will further hamper our ability to support the important contribution of the Burundian military to international peacekeeping.

To get a sense of scale for this news, as previously noted on AFD, via The Wall Street Journal:

After Nigeria — a country 18 times more populous — the U.S. trained more soldiers in Burundi than any other sub-Saharan African country between 2007 and 2014, according to publicly available data from the U.S. State Department. In the first nine months of 2014, 6,298 soldiers from the tiny country went through courses including advanced special operations, language classes and counterterrorism studies.


Flag of Burundi

Flag of Burundi

China will send its first armed peacekeepers to South Sudan

Almost exactly a year after I published an op-ed calling on China to break tradition and contribute combat-ready peacekeeping infantry — something they’ve never done before — to the UN mission in South Sudan, they have announced they will be doing just that.

700 troops will be arriving in January and March — along with drones, armored vehicles, mortars, anti-tank weapons, light arms, and body armor. China’s military and government stressed that the troops will only be armed to protect themselves from attack. (Although this seems like it might be overkill, at least two UN peacekeepers were killed in December 2013 while trying to defend a UN military base and refugee haven from being overrun by two thousand rebel child soldiers, who began massacring civilians once inside the base.)

It is China’s first UN peacekeeping mission that doesn’t just involve sending medics, engineers, guards, and other non-combat troops (of which they have sent thousands to UN-monitored conflicts all over the world).

China is very likely the only country with relatively good ties to just about everyone in South Sudan’s crisis, due to its role as the primary buyer and developer of South Sudanese oil. Although they lean somewhat toward supporting the incumbent government, they also need the rebels to cooperate (to restore the oil production levels) and the rebels need China (to buy the oil from their areas and give them revenue). This gives China an unusual opportunity to be the force in the middle. But it is also a sign that China is stepping up its role and responsibilities in world affairs to a level proportionate with its size and power.


Nusra Front releases Fiji peacekeepers held in Syria

Qatar has “negotiated” (paid the ransom?) for the release of 45 Fijian UN peacekeepers deployed in Golan Heights being held by Nusra Front, Syria’s Al Qaeda branch.

Oddly, one of the (presumably unmet) demands reported by the Fijian troops was that Nusra Front wants to be de-listed as a terrorist organization…which, you know, is a tough sell when you’ve just kidnapped United Nations troops and held them for ransom. Nusra Front is a member of the disparate assembly of Sunni Arab rebel forces opposing both ISIS and Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s three-way civil war. They are likely to benefit inadvertently from President Obama’s and Congress’s proposed increase of weapons and funding for anti-ISIS/anti-Assad forces.

In related news, Philippines peacekeepers who had refused to surrender at two separate locations on the same day the Fijian troops were captured managed to break out successfully, with some help from Irish peacekeepers. The UN forces are stationed permanently in Golan Heights, between the Israeli-occupied zone and the Syrian zone, in an arrangement implemented in 1974. The increasing active danger due to the Syrian civil war, including these hostage episodes, has prompted a number of peacekeeper-supplying nations to withdraw or consider withdrawing their troops from Golan Heights.

Still image from a Nusra Front video of Fijian peacekeeper hostages shortly before their release.

Still image from a Nusra Front video of Fijian peacekeeper hostages shortly before their release.

C.A.R. capital evacuations continue

central-african-republic-mapCentral African Republic peacekeepers have safely evacuated a convoy of over a thousand Muslim civilians out of the capital to the Muslim-dominated north, following thousands of other fleeing Muslims trying to get away from the Christian counter-militias now dominating the capital. The successful convoy operation marks an improvement for an international peacekeeping mission that has been plagued with accusations of inaction and indifference toward the Muslim population specifically.

Separately, members of the country’s disbanded Muslim militia coalition attacked a Doctors Without Borders clinic, killing a couple dozen locals and three foreign aid workers.

UN finally approves 12k peacekeepers to Central African Republic

central-african-republic-mapBack in January the United Nations leadership had suggested that 10,000 more peacekeepers were needed in Central African Republican, but other mounting crises in more strategically prioritized places (Ukraine, for example) seem to have dragged out the process of authorizing them.

Today, the UN Security Council finally voted unanimously — another good sign of the total lack of importance to the major powers, since China and Russia have no countervailing interest against the dominant French there — to send 10,000 more peacekeeping troops and 1,800 police peacekeepers. Their primary focus will be to shore up the embattled capital, its internally displaced refugee population, and the transitional government. A million people (a fifth of the population) have been displaced, as roving religious militias and “self-defense” forces rove the countryside destroying villages in reciprocal attacks.

The need for fresh troops became particularly urgent as neighboring regional power Chad announced its intention to withdraw its forces from the 6,000 strong African Union multinational intervention force. (Most of that force will be replaced by the new UN force, rather than supplemented.) Chad’s move followed mounting accusations (which were probably true) that it was not a benevolently intervening impartial force but was rather a full-fledged party to the conflict.

Although it’s never been entirely clear just how much meddling Chad’s government was doing before the reciprocal atrocities in C.A.R. began last year, many Christian civilians on the ground had become convinced (rightly or wrongly) that Chad was taking sides and facilitating Muslim militia activities. As a result, various Christian militia groups had begun attacking Chadian peacekeepers more and more frequently, culminating in an alleged recent massacre of Christians (supposedly in self-defense) — all of which prompted their decision to depart. The UN’s newly expanded force will mostly be coming from other African nations, like the existing peacekeepers, but UN officials seem relieved to have Chad’s controversial troops out of the picture, without needing to ask them not to participate anymore.

Meanwhile, the better-trained and more experienced French peacekeeping troops are badly outnumbered for the task assigned, to the point that they have been accused of only protecting Christian refugees and watching without acting as Muslims have been murdered in front of them by the now dominant Christian militias (in an eerie parallel to the French force protecting retreating Hutu militias in 1994, at the end of the Rwandan genocide led by Hutu extremists). Other troops from the European Union, previously authorized at the UN, have largely not yet materialized, months later.

It’s clear a bigger force is needed in Central African Republic, and one at least as large as has just been authorized. But will it once again be too little too late?