Leader of Mali military coup trained in U.S.


Rumors swirled in Mali that the coup leader, Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo, had been killed, a suggestion denied on state television. (HABIBOU KOUYATE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

The leader of a military coup in the West African country of Mali received military training in the United States on “several” occasions, a U.S. defense official said Friday.

Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo, who led a renegade military faction that on Thursday deposed Mali’s democratically elected president, visited the United States several times to receive professional military education, including basic officer training, said Patrick Barnes, a U.S. Africa Command official based in Washington.

Barnes said he could not immediately provide further details about the duration or nature of Sanogo’s participation in the International Military Education and Training program. The State Department funds that program, and foreign officers are generally selected by U.S. Embassy officials.

The State Department has condemned the coup and called for restoration of democratic rule. So far, however, it has not suspended aid or diplomatic relations with the impoverished country.

The U.S. government was set to deliver $140 million in aid to Mali this year, about half of it for humanitarian programs. The State Department said that humanitarian aid would continue but that it was reviewing the rest of the money, slated primarily for development and security purposes.

“If this situation is not resolved democratically, the remaining portion of that aid could very seriously be affected,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters Friday.

By law, the U.S. government will be required to suspend military relations with Mali because of the coup. The European Union said it would stop non-humanitarian aid, and the African Union on Friday suspended Mali’s membership in that organization.

“The actions of the mutineers run contrary to everything that is taught in U.S. military schools, where students are exposed to American concepts of the role of a military in a free society,” said Hilary F. Renner, a spokeswoman for the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs.

Mali, a large, landlocked country that covers part of the Sahara Desert, is a key U.S. counterterrorism partner in efforts to contain al-Qaeda’s affiliate in North Africa. The U.S. government has sought for years to bolster Malian security forces so they can improve their ability to track down al-Qaeda sympathizers who kidnap Europeans and other foreigners for ransom.

The Africa Command had planned to hold a major regional military exercise in Mali last month but canceled because of Mali’s struggles to contain a
Tuareg insurgency in the northern part of the country. The exercise, called Flintlock 2012, was supposed to bring together security forces from West Africa, Europe and the United States to coordinate counterterrorism missions.

The Malian armed forces are relatively small, with about 7,000 personnel. Given the even smaller size of the officer corps, it is not surprising that Sanogo would have been selected for military education in the United States, said J. Peter Pham, an African affairs specialist at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank.

“It would be hard to find an officer at his rank or higher in the Malian military who hasn’t received training,” Pham said. “They’ve been a pretty reliable partner in terms of counterterrorism training.”

In appearances on African television since Thursday, Sanogo has stated that he received U.S. military and intelligence training but did not reveal details.

The coup leaders have pledged a return to democracy and said they deposed President Amadou Toumani Toure because of his incompetence in combating the
Tuareg insurgency, which has been fueled by the return of Malian fighters from Libya.

Reuters reported that soldiers looted gas stations and hijacked cars in the capital, Bamako, and the African Union said it had assurances that Toure was safe. Rumors swirled of an imminent countercoup led by Toure loyalists and that Sanogo had been killed, a suggestion denied on state television.

The coup comes a month before Mali — one of the few established democracies in the region — was to hold a presidential election.

Craig Whitlock covers the Pentagon and national security. He has reported for The Washington Post since 1998.
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