Contractors Moving Into Mali

Contractors Moving Into Mali

The ruling military junta reportedly courted private military contractors from the United States and South Africa before it asked the Wagner Group to address ongoing security concerns in the West African nation.


Speaking at the United Nations, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed that Russian mercenaries were en route to the war-torn country. Malian Prime Minister Choguel Maiga said a French military withdrawal forced his hand. When the 5,000-man contingent left, the nation had “to fill the gap which will certainly result from the withdrawal of Barkhane in the north of the country,” he said. “The new situation resulting from the end of Operation Barkhane puts Mali before a fait accompli – abandoning us, mid-flight to a certain extent – and it leads us to explore pathways and means to better ensure our security autonomously, or with other partners,” he added.


In response. The European Union said the Wagner Group invitation was a “red line” which would “have immediate consequences on our cooperation.”




Evidence suggests that people lived in what later became Mali in prehistoric times, when the Sahara was a vast grassland. By around 5,000 B.C., these residents were farming and living in cities. The Mali Empire grew steadily over the next millennium, reaching its peak in the mid-1300s, when it dominated the Gold Coast and boasted cities which rivaled the ones in Europe at the time.


The empire declined over the years. Eventually, Mali became part of French West Africa. After several years of turmoil following World War II, Mali officially broke with France in 1960. At that time, about four million people lived there.


Mali grew rapidly. Today, about 50 years later, the country’s population has grown to over 20 million. That is about the same size as Florida’s population. Yet Mali’s land area is almost 10 times bigger. And, most people live in the southern part of the country, in the Niger River valley. So, there are vast portions of Mali which are sparsely inhabited. Conflicts abound in this area with which the revolving-door governments in Bamako have been unable to cope.


In the north, rebellion broke out in 2012. Separatists drove out government forces and proclaimed the independent state of Azawad. However, the jihadists who supported the rebels turned on their partners and effectively took control of northern Mali. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Ansar Dine want to create a sharia state. Both groups have ties to al Qaeda. 


A little further to the south, the situation is also unstable. For a long time, the indigenous farmers and ranchers who live there have sparred over land and water rights. Largely because of climate change and the conflict in the north, the rivalry has escalated into outright war. Government-supported anti-terrorism groups have added fuel to the fire. “I’ve discussed the growing violence with my commanders and with village chiefs from all sides,” one Mali military commander remarked. “Yes, sure, there are jihadists in this zone, but the real problem is banditry, animal theft, score-settling – people are enriching themselves using the fight against terrorists as a cover.”


As if all this wasn’t enough, illegal immigration is a problem. Refugees from Niger are pouring into the north. 


Mali’s military rulers have scheduled elections for February 2022. A representative government might be able to bring Mali’s warring factions together. But until then, leaders feel they need a strong military presence in the country. That preference moved the shadowy Wagner Group and its mercenaries to the front of the line of foreign groups vying for influence in Mali.


Contractors vs. Mercenaries


A few words about the difference between contractors and mercenaries. U.S. private military contractors have a very bad reputation in some quarters, largely because many people assume the C-word and the M-word are interchangeable.


However, there are some significant differences between contractors and mercenaries, starting with the services they offer.


Mercenaries operate in any capacity on the battlefield. But U.S. law limits private military contractors to defensive operations, mostly escort and guard duties. In fact, until the 1980s, private military contractors could not even engage in these operations. Historically, American private military contractors were cooks and other individuals who could pick up a rifle as a last resort. Even today, most private military contractors don’t carry guns. Instead, they carry laptops, screwdrivers, or hammers.


On a related note, mercenaries like the Wagner Group have no oversight. Since they are not technically government soldiers, although they act and usually look just like them, if there are allegations of abuse or atrocities, these allegations go uninvestigated and unpunished. However, American private military contractors must answer such accusations in court, no matter how far-fetched they are.


Motivation is probably the biggest difference between mercenaries and contractors. Mercenaries, like the Hessians in the Revolutionary War, fight only for money. These German mercenaries probably could not find America on a map. They cared nothing about the dispute between the British Crown and its colonists. In contrast, federal government agencies hire private military contractors. So, these individuals are an important part of the American mission in a particular place.


Injury Compensation Available


The Defense Base Act might not cover any private military contractors who are in Mali at the moment. Unlike contractors in Iraq, Mali contractors are probably not working for the U.S. government. That is the primary qualification for DBA benefits. 


These benefits include lost wage replacement and medical bill payment. Usually, the DBA pays two-thirds of the victim’s average weekly wage for the duration of a temporary disability. The DBA insurance company also pays all reasonably necessary medical expenses related to a covered trauma injury or occupational disease.


Additionally, to qualify for benefits, the victim must have been deployed in an overseas war zone. For DBA purposes, a “war zone” is any country or territory that has any American military presence. A single Marine guard in an embassy satisfies this requirement.


Incidentally, an overseas war zone could be a U.S. possession. Guam and Guantanamo Bay, which are U.S. possessions, qualify as overseas war zones for DBA purposes.


Finally, there must be a nexus (direct or indirect connection) between the illness or injury and the deployment. The VA has a similar rule for disability payments. If Jerry is in a serious car crash while he is on a 48-hour liberty, he might be entitled to VA disability benefits. Similarly, if Jerry is discharged from the Army, becomes a contractor, and is hurt in a marketplace when a bomb explodes, he might be entitled to DBA benefits.


To learn more about DBA benefits, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.