U.S. Warns Wagner Group to Stay Out of Mali

U.S. Warns Wagner Group to Stay Out of Mali

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it would be “unfortunate” if mercenaries closely associated with the Kremlin took sides in an ongoing dispute as the country is poised to return to democracy.

Mali “remains a linchpin for future stability in the Sahel [area between the Sahara and the Sudanese savannahs] and we have deep concerns about that stability and deep concerns about the extremism and terrorism that is spreading tentacles in the region.” Furthermore, “This is ultimately about the people of Mali and their aspirations for peace, their aspirations for development and respect for human rights,” he said. “We look forward to taking the next steps to resume the full array of assistance as soon as the democratically elected government has taken office,” he added. Blinkin made these comments during a joint press conference with Senegalese Foreign Minister Aissata Tall Sall. 

Russian officials maintain that the transitional government, which has dubious authority, invited Wagner Group mercenaries into the country and that Moscow has no official connection.

Situation in Mali

This West African nation has been in transition for generations. In the Middle Ages, several empires larger and more prosperous than the Aztecs, Incas, and Mayas controlled this area’s natural resources, like gold, as well as the valuable trans-Saharan trade routes. When these empires declined, mostly due to a series of famines between 1680 and 1750, the region became low-hanging fruit for European countries anxious to increase their territorial holdings. 

The French staked their claim first. By 1905, Mali was firmly under French control. During World War I, Malian manpower helped France survive the darkest days of World War I in 1916 and 1917. Today, the Monument Aux Héros de l’Armée Noire (Monument to the Heros of the Black Army) is in Reims.

The next transition occurred in the early 1960s. As the world was changing everywhere, Mali and most other African colonies overthrew their European overlords. A series of military strongmen has ruled the country since then.

Mali’s latest iteration is a battleground in the Global War on Terror. An Islamic insurgency began in northern Mali in the early 2010s. The insurgency quickly spread to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger. The war has killed roughly 10,000 people, mostly civilians, over the past two years. French and U.S. soldiers, along with about 15,000 international peacekeepers, have been able to stave off total defeat. But that is about it.

Observers believe the insurgency took root mostly because of government neglect. Mali’s capital, Bamako, contains about 13% of the population. Yet Bamako is home to about 75% of the country’s civil servants, government workers, and healthcare workers. 

Now, France has threatened to withdraw completely if the government invites Wagner Group fighters into the country. French Defense Minister Florence Parly flatly stated that her government “will not be able to cohabit with mercenaries.”

What Contractors Do in Places Like Mali

Mali has a loose security agreement with France. Therefore, in times of crisis, the French provide most of the military muscle, if conditions favor such intervention. Non-French forces, such as American soldiers and private military contractors, largely assume logistical and support roles. 

These assignments are quite familiar to private military contractors. They often provide such support, especially in places like Mali which, as far as Washington is concerned, is not a front-line battlefield in the Global War on Terror.

Military planners often talk about the tooth-to-tail ratio. The fewer combat soldiers are in the tail, the more can serve as the tooth. Private military contractors effectively supplant regular servicemembers in this role. These duties usually involve training soldiers, gathering intelligence, and providing security.

Training is perhaps the most important role that private military contractors fill, especially in places like Mali. If a military strongman is in charge, army training usually includes a large dose of political propaganda. Frequently, the military is little more than the strongman’s personal bodyguard. Furthermore, Malian officers handling the training probably all have more than ten years of service. So, they have little if any anti-insurgency experience.

Private military contractors are different on both levels. Although they are not completely apolitical like mercenaries, private military contractors do not take sides in situations like these. They simply do their jobs. Additionally, contractors usually have years of anti-insurgency experience. They know how to pass that knowledge on to other people.

Intelligence-gathering is critical in these environments. Insurgents and insurgent sympathizers do not wear name tags. Someone must identify them. Moreover, someone must use contacts in the community to determine where insurgents plan to strike next.

Regular service members often dislike these duties. To them, intelligence-gathering is basically a non-combat area. Private military contractors, on the other hand, embrace this responsibility. Many PMCs are former law enforcement officers. So, they know how to develop relationships and obtain information without being overbearing.

This experience also plays well when it comes to providing security. The more visible a deterrent is, such as a few armed contractors casually patrolling an open market, the more insurgents are pressed into the shadows. It takes a long time for them to emerge. Even after contractors move on, their presence remains.

Injury Compensation Available

These lines of duty are extremely risky. The inherent dangers are only the starting point. In the Global War on Terror, there are no rear areas and front lines. Everyone is on the front line all the time. That fact is not just risky. It is also physically and mentally draining. 

When injury strikes, most families lose their primary or only source of income. Therefore, the Defense Base Act replaces lost wages, as follows:

  • Temporary Total Disability: Most deployment-related injuries are completely disabling. These victims cannot work as they recover. So, the Defense Base Act usually pays two-thirds of the victim’s average weekly wage for the duration of the disability.
  • Temporary Partial Disability: Frequently, as victims recover, they are able to go back to work on a limited basis. However, they must accept a lower-paying stateside position that offers light duty and is close to the facility where they receive medical treatment. To bridge the financial gap, the DBA usually pays two-thirds of the difference between the old and new incomes.
  • Permanent Partial Disability: Frequently, recovering victims reach their MMI (Maximum Medical Improvement) before they fully heal. For example, a shoulder injury could mean permanent loss of motion in the joint. The DBA compensates these victims for their future lost wages. The amount of compensation usually depends on the nature of the disability and a few other factors.
  • Permanent Total Disability: Despite the best efforts of doctors and physical therapists, some victims are unable to work following their injuries. So, the DBA also compensates these victims for their future lost wages.

These benefits are also available to occupational disease victims. This category includes things like repetitive stress disorders and toxic exposure issues.

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