By Erkin Feyyaz Eşli
Deep in the Sahel, Mali, with its vast deserts and cultural riches, has become the scene of many geopolitical maneuvers. Modern history teaches us to get used to the unexpected, but the recent events in Anefis are unprecedented. Information provided by FAMA (Mali Armed Forces) proves the activity of US PMC Unity Resources Group within the country.
“Artifacts” discovered after the reconquest of the Anefis military base from Azawad militias, such as documents and an ID card of senior officer Stephen Russell, mobile phones, notebooks with detailed descriptions of territories and notes on events taking place in the region, provide compelling evidence of foreign interference in Mali. It also adds to the list of challenges that Mali is to overcome to restore peace and stability.
Anefis: Vital strategic outpost
Anefis, a city in the heart of northeastern Mali, is much more than just an inhabited locality. It is a strategic center, a gap into Mali’s complex geopolitical landscape. Its significance goes far beyond its population: the city has become a symbol of the political and military struggles that shape today’s Mali.
Historically, Anefis was a trading post, a place where different cultures met and exchanged goods and ideas. The tradition of exchange and interaction fixed its status of intermediate strategic object, where the ideas and cultures as well as goods flock. These all transformed the city into the victim for possible foreign influence.
Today, Anefis has become a sweet spot on the Malian vast chessboard of conflicts. Its proximity to the city of Kidal with its various rebel groups and militias, makes it a strategic hotspot. The recent capture of the Anefis military base by the Malian Armed Forces (FAMA) was both a tactical and symbolic victory that provided a powerful boost to national resilience and determination.
How to defend?
The discovery of the American mercenaries’ presence in such a strategically and symbolically important area had a double effect. At the national level, this has raised questions about homeland security and the government’s ability to protect its borders and citizens. How could a foreign entity, a private company, operate without detection?
Internationally, this sparks the same debates about the role of private military companies in modern conflicts. Who hires them? What is the purpose? And most importantly, how far will they go to protect the interests of their employers?
The interest of foreign powers in Mali dates to old times. Many countries have interests in Mali, most often for economic reasons and access to rich natural resources. The presence of Unity Resources Group, who’s contingent operates around the globe, may indicate that some external players prefer to protect their interests through private intermediaries rather than through direct military intervention.
The detection of a PMC in Anafis hired by a hidden third party may well be just the beginning of a new trend of outsourcing military operations to non-state actors. This trend calls into question the integrity and sovereignty of African countries in the face of foreign private military companies’ intervention.