France’s Military Withdrawal from Mali

France's Military Withdrawal from Mali
French Bharkane element repositioning to Niamey, Niger 19-19 March via Franch MOD


French and EU military forces will leave Mali in the next 6 months due to multiple obstructions’ by the current Malian regime. It is highly likely that the French military withdrawal will have two main consequences. First, mercenaries from the Wagner Group will increase their presence in the region. Second, that violence will spread even more in Sahel’s countries. 

KJ-1 It is almost certain that French troops will relocate in other Sahel’s countries in the next 6 months.

  • French forces have been active in Mali since 2013 where they intervened to fight against terrorist groups affiliated to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. [source]
  • France’s campaign has been going badly. In 2020 more than 6.000 people were killed in conflict in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. Terrorists continue to recruit and grow and they are spreading in states such as Benin and Ivory Coast. [source]
  • On February 17th, France announced that ‘due to multiple obstructions’ by the current Malian regime it would withdraws its 2.400 troops from Mali. The main cause of the withdrawal is that the junta that removed the elected government in 2020, has led a second coup in 2021. Emmanuel Macron said that ‘victory against terror is not possible if it’s not supported by the state itself’. [source]
  • European leaders announced on the same week that troops from a EU-led military task force (Takuba) will withdraw from Mali. EU and France forces are expected to leave Mali in the next 6 months. [source]
  • Macron said that even though military forces are withdrawing from Mali, they are not abandoning the country. Military forces will restructure their presence in the Sahel region. EU and France forces are highly likely to relocate in Niger, especially in the region bordering Burkina Faso, where they will continue to counter actions from Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. [source]

KJ-2 it is highly likely that Wagner Group’s presence will increase in the region in the upcoming 6 months.

  • The Wagner Group is a Russian private military company linked to the Kremlin. [source]
  •  The military group began the deployment of forces in Mali in December 2021. Senior U.S officials said that there are between 800 – 1.000 mercenaries from the Wagner Group that have moved to Mali in recent months. [source]
  • The number of Russian mercenaries is growing and it is highly likely to continue to increase as French troops leave the country. Moreover, with the increasing instability in the Sahel region, while Wagner mercenaries train local forces, they will also try to spread Russian influence in the continent and secure financial gains. [source]
Wagner mercenaries at an undisclosed location. Picture released by the Ukrainian security service (SBU)

KJ-3 It is highly likely that violence will increase in Mali due to France’s withdrawal from the country in the following 6 months. 

  • Experts worry that France’s withdrawal from Mali will leave a security vacuum that will enable insurgents to increase their power in the country. [source]
  • Even though 2.700 militants have been killed since January 2020, terrrorists continue to recruit and grow. [source]
  • France will continue to fight terrorist groups in the region, but its task will be more difficult now. This is because terrorist groups can establish more havens in Mali due to the vacuum left by France.

Troll-on-Troll: Russian-French Cyber Information War in Africa

Troll-on-Troll: Russian-French Cyber Information War in Africa

This Grey Dynamics African intelligence article analyses the misinformation war between Russian and French troll-on-troll actors. It is important to assess the differences in Russian and French information campaigns, but to note the similarity when engaging with one another.

 Key Findings

  • December 2020. Facebook removes troll accounts / groups linked to individuals associated with the French military and Russian Internet Research Agency “troll farm”.
  • The operations focus on influencing public opinion in targeted African countries, such as the Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali. In CAR and countries with contested interest, the primary focus is displaying the adversary in a negative perspective, while displaying themselves positively.
  • Russian and French troll-on-troll operations, in an unprecedented move, openly target and engage with each other with ironic ‘fake news’ exposés.
  • Russian operations can likely be judged as more effective. Creditable to the gap in information warfare experience and incorporation of local nationals into the networks for authenticity.
  • While French operations were likely influenced by existing Russian troll farms, countering trolls vis-à-vis is problematic and counterproductive. By mirroring inauthentic entities and individuals, this revelation increases public distrust of genuine news outlets and supports a stimulated climate of ‘fake news’.

Russian Campaign

The Russian information campaign in Africa is an extensive and well-established layer of increased engagement within African countries. In Africa, Russia has much to gain. A growing weapons export market, natural resources, and increasing geopolitical influence. Yevgeniy Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner mercenary group and Internet Research Agency (IRA) continues to be linked to ‘troll farms’ in Africa. In the case of Africa, the aim of psyops is manipulating public narrative in favour of Russian presence and activities. IRA activities have been identified in Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, CAR, Libya, Ukraine, the US, and beyond. In 2019, Facebook accounts linked to the IRA were taken down in Madagascar, CAR, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Sudan, and Libya. This did not stop the creation of new accounts.


The Russian accounts removed in 2020 include 63 Facebook accounts, 29 Pages, 7 Groups and one Instagram account. The accounts were mainly established during January-March 2020, highly likely in response to the 2019 takedown. Russian operations in South Africa and CAR were highly active, with 140,000 followers on a South African page and over 50,000 in CAR. The main difference in Russian – French operations can be identified in the willingness of Russian operations to focus on electoral politics. France avoided this approach. CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadéra, a key Russian ally, was consistently elevated on these platforms. Simultaneously, Touadéra’s primary rival Francois Bozizé was consistently tarnished. Accounts with stolen photos and fake news outlets spread across the digital information landscape.

Russian operators even paid to promote their posts. The network became utilised to amplify each other’s posts, in line with social media algorithms to reach the widest possible audience. Posts would regularly praise Russian contributions to the region. The extent of the operations and the inclusion of local nationals supports the judgment that the Russian operation was more effective. This is also supported by the experience and emphasis of Russian actors regarding information campaigns in the cyber space compared to French operations.

French Campaign

Facebook’s removal of the French network included 84 Facebook accounts, 6 Pages, 9 Groups, and 14 Instagram accounts. One section of the network focused on Mali, an area formerly under French colonial rule (as is CAR). Since 2013, French and UN forces are active in Mali under anti-terrorism missions. Positive engagement through the network attempted to influence the receptivity of the public to their presence and impact. The French operation utilised Generative Adversarial Networks, an artificial intelligence model producing realistic imagery. Such imagery in profile pictures were used to add credibility to fake accounts. Mock cartoons were created, amplifying negative aspects of terrorists in Mali.

Contrary to the Russian operation, the French network did not focus on electoral politics. This can be interpreted as a desire for support for French troops rather than concessions from incumbent leaders. The French network did not match levels of engagement and followers enjoyed by the Russian network. French operations also attempted to boost authentic engagement through the inauthentic accounts, boosting each other’s content in groups. This attempt cannot be classed as significantly successful.


French operations were also targeting Niger, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Cote d’Ivoire, and Chad, albeit to a lesser degree. Contrasting with Russia, the “coordinated inauthentic behaviour” identified was a violation of Facebook’s policy. As Russia and France both have strategic interests in Africa, the intent for such operations is self-explanatory. The capabilities of the French operation proved less effective. Intent and capability aside, as well as the success, the consequences are arguably even more significant. Russia’s troll farms are well documented. Attempting to ‘fight fire with fire’ in this case not only fell short but provided credibility to Russian troll farm actions. This will highly likely encourage Russian operations to increase, interpreting a ‘resorting’ attempt, especially in CAR.

Trolls Collide

When competing interests collided in the CAR case, the approach from the networks were practically identical. Networks attempted to expose the other as ‘fake news’, an ironic tactic from fake accounts. Martin Kossipé, the leading fake persona of the French operation labels Russian operation content as fake news. This was a common tactic from both sides, attempting to expose each other on participating groups and pages. The operations resorted to comical satire, involving cartoon animations of stereotypes and ulterior motives in CAR involvement. Both operations falsely accused authentic accounts, highly likely by misinterpretation, to be fake. This undermined credibility of authentic behaviour in the cyber space and increases suspicion of widespread fake news.

In a peculiar turn of events, the networks began to support each other. This was done by sharing one another’s post on the online community chats. The intent behind this approach is not clear but has a realistic probability of being an attempt to avoid ‘fake news’ suspicion. The accounts even befriended each other. This was all during the ongoing information war between the networks. As information warfare increases, this case study on troll-on-troll activities may be an example of what is to come. Unfortunately, this approach will highly likely damage credibility of online discussions and deter potential contributors from engagement.

Image: Bryce Durbin (link)


Mali: A Terrorists’ Gold Mine

Mali Gold Mine


Gold mining is Mali’s main industrial activity and it is the fourth-largest producer of gold in Africa. In addition to gold, Mali also exports diamonds, bauxite, iron ore, base metals, and phosphate. Although the country used to occupy the third position, from 2012 onwards, the production declined severely, and Sudan entered the top 3 African gold exporters. Despite this regress, the mining industry remains a key sector for local development.

Another issue is that many mineral reserves are untapped due to lack of infrastructure. In 2012, the government adopted a mining code aimed at attracting foreign investors. It led to the exploitation of new mines – particularly gold mines, making the gold industry the main source of income in Mali. The country’s gold is mainly located in the south, but several mines are also operated in the north.

Why does this matter?

  • Gold production is the cornerstone of Mali’s mining sector and accounts for 95% of the country’s mining output.
  • Mali is the fourth-largest producer of gold in Africa. Many reserves are yet to be exploited. However, the economy is stalled due to a lack of infrastructure.
  • The new mining code will strongly impact both local and foreign investors in the region.
  • High-security risks pose a threat to potential and current investors in the country.
  • Several gold mines across the Sahel are seized by terror groups and used as revenue sources.

Mali’s mining code needs to be reformed

The mining industry in Mali is the linchpin of local, regional and national economic development. It represents the primary or even the only source of income for many Malians. However, the sector is facing many difficulties, such as an imbalance in profit distribution between the government and the mining companies. Other issues include insufficient local development, soil and water pollution, the use of hazardous chemicals and low supervision of the artisanal sector.

Data collected by the International Monetary Fund shows that some projects generate high profitability of over 200% for some mining. Certain factors contribute to this soaring rate, such as generous tax exemptions lying on behalf of investors, reductions in tax cuts on the profits of the corporations, and the stabilisation of unfair tax burdens. 

These measures have been adopted by the Malian government as compensation for the regional threats faced by investors. The security climate in Mali can easily discourage any potential contractor to invest its capital. Therefore, the state is allowing permissive economic policies to boost the industrial potential and to increase the national revenues. 

Investors are not only exposed to the terrorist threat taking over the region but also to financial risks. Most of the country’s mining areas lack road and energy infrastructure. As a result, mining companies require tax exemption and stability guarantees to better predict the risk-return tradeoff and improve profitability. 

Interestingly, the alarming levels of security threat in Mali did not definitively impact the economy. In 2014, the GDP increased by 7%, while for now, mining revenues account for about a quarter of the national budget (1,200 billion CFA francs). The development of the mining sector remains crucial as 62% of Mali’s GDP comes from corporate taxes. This means that the country is highly dependent upon foreign and local investors. However, given the current state of economic and social security, international companies are expected to dominate the industrial spectrum in Mali. Unfortunately, the local investors lack the funds and technology to take preemptive measures in case of a terrorist ambush or to provide employees with constant training for potential scenarios. In case of severe damages caused by terror attacks or natural phenomena, the company needs the capabilities to quickly rebuild and adjust. 

Previous reforms

There are these factors that in 2014 led the Malian government to announce reforms additional to the existing mining code. The government’s main objectives remain focused on increasing national income by establishing a legal and fiscal framework designed to attract national and international mining investments. This strategy is aimed at satisfying the requirements for local development and for regulating artisanal mining.

Mali Gold Mine

The government takes action

To increase the competitiveness of its mining sector, the Malian government has embarked on a broad program of reforms to develop its mining sector. This program includes the development of new mining policy, the restructuring of the mining sector, the revision of the Mining Code to support the development of artisanal miners and the development of local communities and the development of energy and road infrastructure. 

However, under a new mining code, companies operating in Mali will be protected from fiscal changes for 20 years, compared to 30 years as it was previously established in the firstly adopted mining code. The government initially attempted to reduce the timeframe to only 10 years.  This initiative was received with harsh criticism, as a bold reduction would have drastically discouraged current and potential investors.   

Security risks

The northern and central regions of Mali are constantly under threat. Commercial assets and personnel are predominantly exposed to high risk of terror ambushes and kidnappings for ransom. Attackers are highly interested in seizing materials and resources from local companies, as well as obtaining large sums of money for the release of kidnapped personnel.

Terror groups also perceive the targeting of foreign companies as a means of protesting against international interference. Since 2013, France has maintained military troops on the ground, but terrorist networks associated with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State keep attacking public places. So far, attacks on gold mines have mostly been conducted in Burkina Faso. However, the widespread violence in Mali is highly affecting local populations, including miners. 

In Bamako, small-arms and improvised explosive device attacks are quite common. Civilians working for local and foreign companies face high risks, while migration is on the rise. Attacks conducted on mine employees such as the one in Burkina Faso (November 6, 2019) can easily intimidate the personnel which is likely to seek relocation. 

The problem not only persists for years, but it also expands to the entire Sahel region, with countries like Togo and Niger included. Therefore, regional violence and terror is expected to strongly impact the local economies for the coming years. Consequences are already visible, with several companies from Canada, Australia and France forced to invest millions of dollars in security measures. 

Terrorist control gold mines as well

It is still impossible to exactly know how many gold mines are owned and operated by terror groups in the Sahel. Due to the lack of infrastructure and cutting-edge technology, mines in remote areas remain inaccessible for corporations. However, insurgent militants use locals to infiltrate in those areas and to perform illegal extraction. Much of the Malian and Burkinabe gold is sold on the black market, with revenues entering the jihadists’ bank accounts. Local reports indicate that at least 15 gold mines in Burkina Faso are controlled by insurgent militias. In Mali, the mines in the north are secured by French forces, while those in the south are currently highly exposed to attacks. 

Mali Gold Mine

Another important aspect is that the gold smuggling is not being conducted by terrorists only. As the majority of populations in the Sahel confront severe poverty, locals extract gold illegally for being able to support their families. Apart from the human security risks that come along with it, children are also forced into labour in mines. For those working in small unlicensed mines, conditions are harsh, with wages that cannot cover a decent living. Therefore, workers are exposed to radicalization and recruitment as the insurgents afford to offer higher pay. 

Image: httpsahel-elite (link)

Image 2: UNICEF (link)

Image 3: TM1972 / Wikimedia Commons (link)


ECO: West Africa Moves a Step Further Away from French Colonialism

West Africa ECO

In 2020, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is expected to adopt a new currency – the ECO. This decision represents an agreement between France and the West African Monetary Union, adopted on 21st of December 2019. The project was publicly announced at a conference hosted by Ivory Coast’s president Alassane Ouattara, where the guest was Emmanuel Macron.

Why does this matter:

  • France’s economic influence in the region will become highly limited. The former colonial power will no longer be represented in the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO), while ECOWAS will become more independent.
  • The adopting of a new currency is expected to create work opportunities for the youth and to boost trading across the region.
  • The Eco will remain pegged to the Euro during the first stages of the implementation. However, ECOWAS will no longer be required to maintain 50% of their reserves in France’s treasury.

Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo currently use the West African CFA (Communauté Financière d’Afrique) franc which has been introduced in 1945, during colonial times. Apart from these countries, the CFA franc is also used in Central Africa, where it circulates under the same value.

ECOWAS members willing to join the ECO zone need to meet four set criteria. The countries’ inflation rate has to be single digit. The fiscal deficit cannot exceed 4% of the GDP, while the central bank deficit-financing cannot outreach 10% of the previous year’s tax revenues. Also, the governments need to make sure that the gross external reserves that can give import cover for a minimum of three months.

A report issued by the African Development Bank Group specifies that the 2020 deadline might be delayed, due to unaligned monetary and fiscal policies across the region. The CFA is being used in 14 African countries. However, only the ECOWAS decided to change its currency. Since 1994, the West African CFA Franc has been pegged to the Euro. According to the new agreement, the ECO will remain pegged to the European currency.

The movement comes not only due to the need to boost trade among West African countries, but also because of rising anti-French sentiments in the region. In the last few months local authorities expressed concerns over France’s military presence in the Sahel, as well as its partial control over the regional economy. These views were publicly approached by Macron who threatened to withdraw France’s troops.

The overall sentiment in West Africa regarding the monetary change to the ECO is optimistic. The youth in West Africa hopes that the adoption of ECO will attract more investors, creating thus new job opportunities. Most of the countries in the region face increased unemployment rates which forces young people to leave the country in the search for a better life and opportunities.

The peg’s purpose is to keep down the inflation rate which in other non-CFA countries has peaked in the last few years. One example is Ghana which in 2019 reached almost 10%. For this reason, on 28th of December 2019, Ghana officially announced the change of its currency Cedi, with the purpose of adopting the ECO. Therefore, Ghana is expected to become the largest economy of the block, followed by Ivory Coast.

West Africa ECO
Annex 1 – ECOWAS countries map

Image: UNOWAS (link)


Recent Developments in Mali’s Struggle Against Terrorism

Mali Terrorism

In late October, ISIS supreme leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi was killed in a US raid in North-Western Syria. However, ISIL disposes of a horizontal structure, meaning the elimination of the leader does not bring substantial damage to the group as a whole. Shortly after Baghdadi’s death, ISIS published the name of the newly proclaimed leader – Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi. After 5 years of foreign intervention against the terror group, the Middle East is witnessing a weakened ISIL, with many of its members killed, imprisoned or on the run. But in Africa, the Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISGS) has taken over strategically important territories in the Sahel region. One of the countries most affected by the terrorism movements in the area is Mali, where both ISGS and Al Qaeda are coordinating armed groups.

On November 2 2019, in Bamako Mali, 53 national army soldiers and one civilian were killed in a terrorism attack conducted by the ISGS, following two similar attacks that killed at least 40 soldiers near the country’s border with Burkina Faso. On November 25, thirteen French soldiers have been killed in a helicopter collision during an operation against jihadists. Preparing to target militants on motorbikes and pick-up trucks, a French Tiger attack helicopter hit a Cougar military transport mid-air. The two aircraft crashed close to each other, killing everyone on board. At the same time, the UN peace-keeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA) has been declared the most dangerous of its kind, having lost 206 personnel over the past six years.

The French mission against terrorism in northern Mali began in 2013, after which the deployment was extended into a regional mandate under the operational name Barkhane. France has currently 4,500 troops deployed to assist and fight alongside forces of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger, against the Islamist radicals. Yet in recent months, groups linked to Islamic State and al-Qaeda initiated a new offensive, focusing their activity on the centre-east of Mali and the area bordering Niger and Burkina Faso.

The security climate in Mali is worsening due to increased terrorism. Organized crime activities are increasing, fueling the bank accounts of the jihadists. French troops in the northeastern region of Kidal did not manage to impede rebel groups from exploiting the region’s immense gold reserves. The Malian government is now losing control of the region of Timbuktu, as well. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU) have very limited political influence in the area and their involvement has stalled. The current disarray in Mali finds its origins in the 2012 coup which cleared the path for Tuareg separatists to take effective control of villages and cities in the north of the country. Jihadists affiliated mainly with Al Qaeda suppressed the Tuareg people, seizing the northern Mali for 10 months until French-led military mission ousted them from the area.

The region of Timbuktu was also shaken by a separatist movement coordinated by the Coalition des Mouvements de l’Azawad (CMA), which is expected to lead to new conflicts between the fractured member groups. One of the armed terrorist groups that signed the 2015 peace agreement in Mali, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) called on December the 3rd for the merger of the various groups representing the north of the country within a single political-military organization. Tensions between the central government and CMA could compromise the efforts made so far against the jihadists.

Soon after the disastrous French military intervention where 13 soldiers were killed, Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly has called on fellow EU governments to dispatch special forces to the Sahel, to help curb militant attacks that have killed more than 100 Malian troops in recent weeks. In an almost seven-year campaign, France has lost 38 troops. However, not all European governments consider the jihadist threat in the Sahel an imminent threat, reason for which the French proposal is likely to be received with reluctance.

For a foreign intervention against the terrorist threat in Mali to be successful, both France and neighbouring governments must concentrate their efforts on increasing the levels of social security and education. Regardless of purpose or region, terror groups can only thrive in areas highly affected by social insecurities, such as ethnical conflicts, religious clashes, corruption, poverty, poor governance etc.

The Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel (FC-G5S) that brings together Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger is aimed at combating rebel armed groups, cross-border organised crime and human trafficking. However, nor the FC-G5S, nor the governments in the region alone receive any substantial support from France or the EU. Effective measures should address not only the ongoing insurgency but the core problems that allowed it to prosper in the region.

With increasing numbers of people trying to flee terrorism in Mali by embarking on deadly journeys towards Europe, the EU is likely to face a new wave of refugees. In this regard, increased coordinated efforts between France, the EU, the UN and the regional governments are needed for ensuring the security of the Malian people.

Image: Screen Capture from Al Qaeda Propaganda Video


Task Force Takuba: European Special Forces in the Sahel

Importance of Task Force Takuba

Task Force Takuba (TFT) is an example of the new geopolitical scenario relevant to European states. Takuba increases the share of a military burden against insurgents in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger.

France continues to be the leading force in the Sahel. The drawdown of Barkhane and increasing participation of non-European states is likely not enough to compensate for a 9-year long mission.

The focus of TFT on Counter Insurgency (COIN) and Counter-Terrorism (CT) operations provides both advantages and disadvantages. A majority of SOF personnel increases the COIN capabilities of Task Force Takuba. On the other hand, the insurgent nature of the conflict means that limited success in targeting militants is likely expected unless non-military efforts are made effective.


  • In 2012, Tuareg militias entered Mali from Southern Algeria and triggered a coup d’état. By 2014, actors like Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar Dine, Al-Mourabitoun and the Macina Liberation Front increased French contribution under Operation Barkhane.

  • By 2017, a combination of insurgent groups formed Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) and established in Mali. Simultaneously, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) formed during 2016 from defected factions of JNIM. By 2018, the insurgent threat expanded into different ethnicities and countries.

  • Since 2020, 2 coup d’états have changed the government and head of state. Militants increased the degree of support amongst specific ethnic local populations. Losing 55 military personnel and reaching a 5,100 strong presence, France proposed the idea of Task Force Takuba. The group is focusing on a-solely SOF approach under Operation Barkhane to successfully target insurgents.

Task Force Takuba: The Sahel and Special Operations nature

Tri-Border Area

Similar to the doctrine of insurgents, the concept of borders is non-existent for Task Force Takuba. The conflict originating in the Sahel started with Mali in 2012, while it entered Burkina Faso in 2016 and Niger in 2017. The operators targeting insurgents should not be limited by geographical boundaries. The area on which Takuba is focusing crosses state and ethnic boundaries. Below, highlighted.


For operational purposes, dividing Task Force Takuba within three bases is necessary. The bases are an evolution of the structure of Barkhane, reducing bases to three locations in the epicentre of the conflict. Menaka acts as the headquarters, holding both liaison officers and operational personnel. Another section of personnel is stationing in Gao. Meanwhile, Ansongo acting as a middle-ground, hosts the third base.

Task Force Takuba: The Components

Taskforce Takuba Organogram, organization and size

Operations Bourrasque in November 2020 and Eclipse in January 2021 included the participation of Task Force Takuba.  Bourrasque included the participation of French-Estonian Special Forces, attached to a Malian intervention unit and Nigerien forces. In addition, targeting special forces operators is already underway. On the 21st of April, 3 Swedish SOG operators suffered an injury in Menaka due to an IED.

French SOF in Menaka and Gao:

As Task Force Takuba operates under Barkhane, French elite units present in Mali since 2012 likely reinforced the Menaka and Gao bases in 2020. The French are the largest contingent in the force and prove it with experienced SOF operators. Takuba is reportedly working to prevent scenarios of indiscipline and corruption seen in Barkhane.

Three SOF components

Given the presence in Barkhane, the French contribution includes three special forces components including one being aerial support. SOF operators are likely armed with FN SCARS and HK 416 assault rifles and number around 300 personnel. In other words, half of Task Force Takuba. Nevertheless, given the specialisation of each unit, long-range precision rifles like PGM may be used

Descendants of the SAS

The 1st Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment (1er RPIMA) is the direct descendant of the SAS, with the crest showing significant similarities. Within the 1er RPIMA, the 2nd Company is deploying in Takuba. The company is suited for extreme environments and operates normally in the Sahel. Technically, the unit specialises in extreme cold, mountain or jungle environments.

1er RPIMA during a demo

Reconnaissance Marine Commandos

The Penfentenyo Commando represents the Marine Commandos, the French Navy’s special forces. Within the 6 commandos in the Marine, the Penfentenyo is responsible for Surveillance and Objective Neutralisation Teams (ESNO). The Penfentenyo Commando serves as support to motorised or aerial routes, particularly with sharp-shooting. The ESNO team acts as the eyes of the task groups hunting insurgents in Menaka and Gao, training requires yearly procedures and examinations to determine the capability of operators.

“Nulle Part Sans Nous”

France supports its 1st RPIMA with the 4th Special Forces Helicopter Regiment. The ‘4e RHFS’ offers unique and autonomous support to special force units, developing unconventional cooperation and strategies with operators. The material capability of the unit includes Gazelle, Caracar, Cougar and Tiger helicopters. Along with the UK and the US, only France is able to uniquely support SOF operators with a helicopter regiment specialised in unconventional scenarios. The unit allegedly joined Barkhane in 2014. Out of its 500 personnel and 6 divisions, the air combat division with most experienced units in Barkhane will likely be chosen to provide aerial support to Task Force Takuba.

4e RHFS member with a 1er RPIMA operator installing a .50 caliber Barrett sniper rifle on a Gazelle helicopter

Malian SOF in Takuba

The Light and Rapid Intervention Units (ULRI) are the Malian representative in Task Force Takuba. ULRI’s emerged in 2020 as a response to a worsening insurgency and a domestic military incapable of reducing insurgent activity. The Malian units in Takuba are characterised by the need to have rapid reaction forces capable of operating outside conventional scenarios.

Member of ULRI in Takuba

The ULRI’s play a protagonist role in Takuba as the Malian units tasked with acquiring special capabilities. European units in Gao and Menaka train the Malian components in degrees of basic training (1 year) and advanced training (2 years) to achieve operational autonomy. As the long-term objective is to replace foreign operators with local counterparts, groups are specialised in rapid reaction, IED’s and insurgent environments.

Characteristics and Division

Motorcycles are the operational symbol of the ULRI’s in Task Force Takuba. The vehicle shows the significance of the importance of geographical mobility in environments with insurgents like Gao and Menaka. The relevance and need of ULRI’s is seen in the formation of units that continue to be created in order to expand the Malian footprint in the task force. Takuba continued inaugurating ULRI nº5 and nº6 in October and November of 2021, both intended to operate in Menaka.

ULRI nº4 operates along with Estonian and French units in Gao, with reportedly positive operational feedback as recent as the 15th of November against insurgents in In Delimane. Also in Gao, ULRI nº3 is undergoing a process of developing the necessary operational skills. In Menaka, ULRI nº2 is likely in phase 2, or advanced training level. Apart from understanding the vehicle and environment, training is focusing on geolocation capabilities and the use of communication devices.

Estonian SOF in Gao:

Estonian forces, including a mechanised infantry division and special operators, arrived in 2018 in Mali under a French invitation. The units included members of special operations already stationed in Gao along with French troops. The added experience during Barkhane, particularly with SOF forces in Gao, is a likely reason to continue cooperation and change the framework to Takuba.

ESTSOF Estonian special operations forces
Estonian operator on combined patrol with Malian ULRI operators

ESTSOF operators offer multiple operations of experience in collaboration with French forces. Estonia participated in the EUFOR CAR operation along with French units. ESTFOR, for example, offers experience in Helmand during ISAF along with NATO SOF.

Contributions to Task force Takuba

Estonia is reinforcing the mechanised infantry division stationed to Barkhane which numbered 45 military personnel. The additional Estonian units arrived in Gao in July 2020, including special operators from ESTFOR. Contributions include:

  • To contribute, Estonia is sending British-donated Supacat Jackal armoured vehicles.

  • The THEMIS unnamed ground combat system, after successfully operating in battle, is participating in Barkhane.

  • In July, the parliament approved an increase to 95 personnel in total, including special operators.

  • The parliament approved in July a €7 million budget to expand special operations within Niger and potentially a resource and personnel expansion.

Czech SOF in Menaka

The Czech presence in Task Force Takuba falls under one of the significant operational contributions to the task force. While compared to the French or Italian contribution the capacity is limited, the Czech SOF provided Takuba with Initial Operating Capabilities (IOC) by October 2020.

The chosen: Group General Moravec

The 601st Special Forces Group (601 SkSS) is the designated contribution to cooperate with allies in the Menaka base. Group 601, also known as ‘General Moravec’, is named after the WWII Czechoslovakian chief of intelligence. The unit was designated within the special forces of the Czech Republic in 2003. In 1948, the unit emerges as a paratrooper brigade.

Task Force Takuba
601st special operations group operator in Mali

The unit conducts rapid reaction and long-term operations hunting insurgent members in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. General Moravec is based in Menaka and forms part of Task Group 1 (TG1). As a curiosity, it is the first time the unit is deployed to the African continent. The 601 SkSS contingent includes 60 operators and is expected to stay in Menaka, at least, until December 2022.

Previous Cooperation

The group participated in Operations Enduring Freedom and KFOR. In Afghanistan, the 2nd Task Force saw its deployment to Bagram Airbase. Battles like Tora Bora or Helmand included the participation of the 601st SFG. Again, Task Force Takuba reinforces the similarities between the Afghan approach at building local capabilities using SOF with the previous history of cooperation. 601st Group in Logar Province, 2009

Swedish SOF in Menaka

The Swedish contribution is currently crucial to the Takuba mission, especially for operational capabilities. Sweden is taking the command role of Task Force Takuba from November 2021 to February 2022. The role of Sweden, additionally, provides the needed capabilities to conduct operations in difficult terrain like the Sahel.

The Aerial Component

Task Force Takuba is majorly dependent on Sweden for aerial transport as a Quick Reaction Force (QRF). Sweden is deploying black hawk helicopters in Menaka and a C-130 Hercules in Niamey to support the operations. Above all, the Swedish responsibility adds significant capabilities to the mission due to the geographic spread of Takuba, which includes regions of Northern Mali.

The Särskilda Operationsgruppen

Sweden is sending 150 operators from the SOG, or Särskilda Operationsgruppen (Special Operations Group). Additional to the operators are assistant and operational staff, with an optional 100 additional personnel to Task Force Takuba. The expertise of the unit in risk environments and unconventional scenarios match the necessary skills in an environment like the tri-border area in Mali.

History and experience

The group originates from SIG and SSG, special forces units dedicated to rescue, direct action and reconnaissance missions. SOG operators deployed with ISAF until 2014, although several operators participated in the Kabul evacuation in August 2021. In 2015, 30 SOG members advised, trained, instructed and cooperated with Peshmerga forces.

Italian SOF in Menaka

Together with Sweden, the Italian contribution provides significant capabilities to Task Force Takuba, only outmatched by the French due to Barkhane. The Italian contingent contributing units from 5 different special operation groups, additionally, provides operational material to the reinforcement.

Sea and Land

The Italian contribution reinforces the Swedish aerial support, as well as the French-established capabilities. The following additions provide capabilities to extend the geographic reach in simultaneous missions:

  • LMV Iveco or ‘Lynx’ armoured vehicles

  • 4×4 Flyer Light Strike Vehicle

  • UH-90 Helicopters

  • CH-47x Helicopters

  • Agusta A129 Helicopters

Contribution: Combining Elite Units

The base of Task Force Takuba is holding 5 different special forces groups, commonly armed with HK416/HK417 assault rifles. Additionally from the transport provided, 200 operators are joining the base in September 2021. Apart from cooperating with allied and Malian SOF, the role of the Italian contingent is reported of MEDEVAC duties.

Col Moschin Regiment

The Italian Army is contributing the 9th Assault Regiment ‘Col Moschin’ based in Livorno. The origin is the 9th assault regiment in WWI known as ‘arditi’, or ‘daring’. With a required 75 weeks in training and formation, 55 weeks are spent developing amphibious, direct-action and reconnaissance capabilities.

An operational detachment unit reportedly includes:

  • Medic
  • Breacher
  • Improvised Explosive Device Disposal (IEDD)
  • Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) controller
  • Human Intelligence (HUMINT) Operator
  • Sniper
Col Moschin Operators during and exercise with simunition

Gruppo Operativo Incursori (GOI)

COMBUSIN, the elite unit of the Italian Navy, is deploying the Gruppo Operativo Incursori (GOI) to Task Force Takuba. COMBUSIN divides itself into sub-aquatic and raid operations. The GOI is responsible for the latter. The ‘Incursori’ specialise in hostage environment, territory infiltration, and counter-terrorism operations.

Gruppo di Intervento Speciale (GIS)

Task Force Takuba hosts the special forces of the carabinieri, as the third unit of the Italian Forces. The group specialises in counter-terrorism, direct action, and reconnaissance, becoming a special force unit in 2004. Members of the GIS, likewise, originate from the 1st Paratrooper Tuscania regiment. The Tuscania regiment is considered an elite-like unit operating along with the GIS.

GIS & 1st Rgt. “Tuscania” during the exercise Ex Watan in Doha, in preparation of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022

17º Stormo Incursori

The youngest special forces within the Italian Forces likely represent a crucial component of the contribution to Takuba. The 17th Raiders Wing, created in 2008, operates as a Combat Search and Rescue (C-SAR) and Forward Air Controller (FAC). Dependent on the 1st Special Operations Air Brigade, for example, the unit provided aerial support to ISAF deployments in Afghanistan. Along with the following helicopter regiment, the 17th Wing will likely provide the aerial capabilities needed in the Sahel.

Aldebaran Helicopter Regiment

The 3rd Helicopter Regiment for Special Operations will be reportedly participating within Task Force Takuba. The department was specifically delegated to provide aerial capabilities and support to Italian Special Forces, particularly SAR and MEDEVAC operations.

Col Moschin Operators with Aldebaran crew

‘Monte Cervino’ Rangers

The 4th Parachute Alpine Regiment ‘Monte Cervino’ comes as likely support to the 9th Col Moschin regiment. The 4th regiment was created as a supporting unit of the Col Moschin. Due to this, all training occurs within the Col Moschin regiment in Livorno. In particular, the unit focuses on direct action and support to special operations in any environment.

Romanian SOF in Task Force Takuba

The Romanian contribution is arriving by the end of 2021, likely in December. While it is not specified what unit is being deployed, the location of the unit will likely be Ansongo or Gao. All other SOF forces are either in Gao and Menaka, in particular with the latter being more populated. The expansion of forward bases is crucial.

6th Special Operations Brigade ‘Mihai Viteazul’

It is almost certain that the Mihai Viteazul brigade is deploying within the Task Force Takuba framework. The government approved the contingent to number 45 special forces operators. The 610th “Vulturii” and the 620th ‘Bâneasa-Otopeni” Special Operations Battalions are the primary direct-action operating SOF force. Commonly using an M4 or HK-G36, the majority of members of the 610th Vulturii battalion trained in the US Army’s Special Warfare Centre School. While paratrooper and support battalions exist, either the 610th or 620th are candidates to join the other European special forces.

The Vultures 51st Battalion in Afghanistan

Demands and Secrecy

With an average entry failure rate of 95%, Romanian SOF including the Vulturii battalion are reportedly considered a Tier 1 unit. All applicants are highly likely to have served previously in extreme environments or high-risk operations, commonly Iraq or Afghanistan.

Until 2006, all information about the Vulturii unit was clandestine and not recognised. The secrecy reached a degree of secrecy, which significantly forced the Romanian Ministry of Defence to block and suspend any online user mentioning the existence of the unit.

Norwegian SOF in Menaka

The Norwegian parliament rejected a contribution to Task Force Takuba. It argued that the foreign presence of troops should be through an international body like MINUSMA or EUTM Mali. The Norwegian contribution to Takuba, allegedly, comes after an invitation by Sweden to contribute. Together with Denmark, there will be a Scandinavian contribution in Mali.

Forsvarets Spesialkommando

The Special Commando Forces (FSK) of Norway are the primary operating land-based unit of the Norwegian special operations command. Commonly armed with HK417M and C8-CQB rifles, operators from FSK are the likely choice to accompany the Swedish in Task Force Takuba.

Forsvarets Spesialkommando in Jordan

The commandos proved the capability to adapt to all scenarios. 78 FSK operators participated in Task Force K-BAR with coalition of special forces hunting Al Qaeda in Afghanistan in 2001. Originating as a response to terrorism and organised crime, the unit is specialised in the protection and combat in oil rig environments.

Inclusion within the Swedish contribution

Apart from declaring a political statement, the Norwegian SOF contribution will form part of the Swedish contingent in Takuba. It is described as a ‘small number of soldiers’ along with 2 officers, making the contribution less significant to capabilities than other contributors. The contribution is more symbolic to European cooperation and Scandinavian efforts than to a need to participate in Takuba.  


In 2020, a coup was led by the Malian Armed Forces, which successfully ousted the former Malian government. Just nine months later, a further coup undertaken, led by Vice President Assimi Goïta. Once again, this coup was successful. Since his acquisition of power, Goïta has been reluctant to hold elections, which has initially been agreed to be held in February 2022. The transitional government has indicated that it looks to delay elections by up to five years.

Following almost a full decade in of operations within the country, in February 2022, France announced the withdrawal of Task Force Takuba from Mali. Following the coups in 2020 and 2021, France has been unable to come to an agreement on democratic elections with the transitional military government, ultimately leading to the withdrawal order. As a result, Takuba will be stationed in Niger. In a joint statement with European Nations operating in Task Force Takuba, the force stated that “the political, operational and legal conditions are no longer met to effectively continue their current military engagement in the fight against terrorism in Mali”.

This article was first published in November 2021, but updated and republished due to recent developments by Abbi Clarck


Force Intervention Brigade: Neutralise & Disarm

Force Intervention Brigade
Tanzanian contingent of UN FIB in Kiwanja: source

MONUSCO on March 28th, 2013 established the United Nations Force Intervention Brigade (FIB). It consisted of armed forces from three member states, South Africa, Malawi, and Tanzania. The FIB had the unprecedented mandate to actively “neutralize and disarm” the group. These were a threat to state sovereignty and human security:

  • The FIB originally helped the DRC in operations against the Rwandan-backed M23 rebels, FDLR. Since 2014, the FIB has targeted the APCLS, and more notably the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).

  • In the DRC, there are more than 70 armed groups operating. These highly likely influenced the mandate to create an offensive combat force, focusing on peace enforcement rather than peacekeeping.

  • There are opposite views regarding the ethical and effective consequences of the force. Nonetheless there is a realistic probability the UN Security Council will apply a similar model to Mali and CAR. This is based on the ongoing threat from armed groups and the mandate given to UN missions in both countries.

This Grey Dynamics African Intelligence article analyses the FIB approach. It speculates the trends in Mali and CAR to support a potential model for the application.

Force Intervention Brigade

Force Intervention Brigade: DRC Approach

Previous mandates only permitted self-defense. This led to heavy criticism of the UN. Killings, rapes, and looting in Icari, Eastern Congo 2003, and in 2010 when M23 rebels captured Goma North Kivu followed. This criticism was key in creating a robust mandate. For the first time, it would allow an offensive UN combat force. Operations focused mainly in the North and South Kivu Provinces. These were close to the Rwandan border which had been a source for armed rebel groups against the DRC.

The FIB, in concert with DRC forces, has been highly effective against the M23 rebels. These lost all strongholds in a series of operations in 2013. This would have likely not been possible without an offensive mandate. Since 2014, a new engagement with the ADF is ongoing despite the group suffering heavy losses. With around 3000 combat troops, air drones, attack helicopters the FIB success is still limited. It only targets 4 out of 70 armed groups. It is an expensive model, with mixed success. Nonetheless, it serves as an immediate response to direct state sovereignty threats. It can help to neutralize groups that would be detrimental to human security.

The UN extended the mandate for the Force Intervention Brigade to at the very least December 2020 by UN Resolution 2502. The mandate has also created a troop ceiling of 14,000 military personnel, 660 military observers, and 591 police personnel. This force is mainly Zeerust-based 2 South African Infantry Battalion and Brigadier General Patrick Dube leads it. It is in turn supported by air reconnaissance, surveillance, and aerial bombing, with authorization for ground support operations.

Congolese Intelligence

The FIB relies heavily on Congolese intelligence. It works closely with the state as part of the mandate for neutralizing armed groups. The ADF has lost its last stronghold in Beni, North Kivu Province. However, there are criticisms that the FIB does not hold captured territory. These in turn witness ADF return to the lost ground. Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states make up the FIB which supports the cooperation with Congolese forces.

This is vital to success and would likely be an effective approach. The UN considers applying a similar model to Mali and CAR. The solutions to instability are not solely military. A robust military force working with the respective host nation is highly likely to influence success against armed groups.

Applying the Model

In the West Sahel region, as well as the CAR, armed group activity is ongoing. This happens despite assistance from the US and French military forces. A previous Grey Dynamics article addressed the success of Mauritania against terrorism. This highlighted that Mali is subject to terror attacks. The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) is a peacekeeping, rather than peace enforcing mission. Since 2016, violence has increased. This has raised the prospects of the UN applying a similar model, for example, a JF-G5 force like the FIB.

This was originally a wish by the ECOWAS but would likely require the ongoing support of French forces. The region lacks a robust military force as seen in South Africa in the Force Intervention Brigade case. The UN Security Council in 2016 called for MINUSMA to engage in direct operations against asymmetric threats. Later on, a 2018 renewal called for joint operations and intelligence cooperation with Mali.

In 2017, Lieutenant General Balla Keita quoted Operation Bekpa as breaking rules of engagement to ensure mission success. It is not clear how far the UN will apply the FIB model. Nonetheless, it is a realistic probability that the UN will take a more offensive approach going forward.

This article was originally published in May 2020.


13th Parachute Dragoon Regiment

13th Parachute Dragoon Regiment
13e RDP Troops posing for a photo. (Source)

The 13th Parachute Dragoon Regiment (13e RDP, 13e Régiment de Dragons Parachutistes) is one of France‘s oldest and most prestigious recon units. The unit was raised in 1676 as a shock cavalry division by the Marquis de Barbezieres at Languedoc. the unit was re-raised in 1792 to assist in the Revolutionary Wars against Prussia. The unit was given high honours for their efforts during the battle, and the victory at Valmy by French forces against Prussia is what led to the proclamation of the Republic. Since then, the unit has been disavowed and reactivated sporadically until 1952, which it is still active to this day. The 13th RDP has received honours for many other operations and battles throughout France’s history such as Ypres and Verdun in World War I and in Algiers in the 1950s. (Source)

French Special Forces

Currently, the 13e RDP operates as an airborne reconnaissance unit, and is part of the French Army Special Forces Brigade in tandem with 1er Régiment de Parachutistes d’Infanterie de Marine (1er RPIMa) and 4e Régiment d’Hélicoptères des Forces Spéciales (4e RHFS). The FASPB is organized under the COS (Special Operations Command), which coordinates special operators and operations between the French Army, Air Force, and Navy. (Source)

Given the reconnaissance nature of the 13e RDP and their proficiency in long-range reconnaissance, France’s foreign intelligence service, DGSE, frequently fills their Action Division ranks with soldiers from the unit.

Organization and Mission

The 13e RDP is located in Martignas-sur-Jalle in France, and their mission mainly specializes in a long-range, hostile environment, and electronic reconnaissance and human intelligence (HUMINT) collection. The unit mainly works in Africa but has recently been shifting focuses to European matters.

The 13e RDP is organized as follows:

  • Three squadrons are dedicated to reconnaissance and intelligence collection.

  • Two long-range communication squadrons.

  • Two training squadrons for new members.

  • A support intelligence analysis squadron that also coordinates with COS

The unit frequently works with other units within the French military and police structure due to their calibre of expertise and training on recon and intelligence. The GIGN, (Groupe d’Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale) France’s elite hostage rescue police team, frequently train their officers alongside the 13e to gain experience in forwarding reconnaissance collection. (Source)


French special forces and reconnaissance groups are outfitted with an FN Scar-L or M16A2, drawing away from the service-issued Famas F1 and HK416 used by most French military personnel. 13e RDP also has access to the HK MP5 and MP7 as well as the FN P90, all of which are used by naval or special operations groups in the French military, and particularly favoured by reconnaissance groups. (Source)

The 13e uses some unconventional and albeit unique tools and tactics to gather information and carry out their missions proficiently. One tactic that was unveiled in an admission by a 13e operator was that in the days leading up to missions the soldiers do not shower, as the soap that use can be smelled by dogs or other people if they are in deep cover. The soldier also revealed some interesting collection devices the 13e employs, like fake cement blocks that are utilized as cameras, and fake stones that act as GPS targeting beacons for airstrikes and image collection. (Source)


  • The parachutists were involved in the Gulf War in late 1990, and three of their operators were captured by Iraqi forces while on a reconnaissance mission behind enemy lines. (Source)

  • The unit was heavily involved in the NATO intervention in the Kosovo War, and was involved in many behind enemy lines and hostile reconnaissance missions. The unit is also said to have frequently feigned retreats with other French forces to lure the Serbian Army into a kill-zone of NATO artillery and airstrikes. The capture Momčilo Krajišnik in 2001 is also said to have been facilitated by reconnaissance from the 13e. (Source)

  • A 13e operator divulged information about the unit’s involvement in France’s effort in stabilizing Mali, and that the 13e was used to collect intelligence on al-Qaeda in the Maghreb. (Source)

13th Parachute Dragoon Regiment

The 13e RDP operates as one of France’s premier intelligence and reconnaissance collection units, as well as being on the oldest. Through the training and operations that these soldiers go through, it is safe to say that they are one France’s most elite units.


The Safari Club

Safari Club
Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and US President Jimmy Carter at Camp David; via Middleeastmonitor

The Safari Club would have likely never existed had it not been for the ideas of Karl Marx.

“Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing socials conditions…”, he writes.

Marx’s magnum opus, the “Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei“, the source of the quote, is a thread in the revolutionary fabric woven with his philosophies. Packaged in its words is a rhetorical battle-cry; a call-to-arms directed by Marx to the workers of the world.

Those philosophies have resulted in violent political uprisings spanning multiple continents, and claiming millions of lives in their wake.   

And although his manifesto hit circulation in 1848, its opening words remain relevant.

A spectre is haunting Europe”, Marx writes, “the spectre of communism”.

This so-called spectre was still translucent in its written form, but as decades passed, Marx’s infectious ideas morphed into transparency. Transparency then reordered into the form of revolution. 

In 1917, Russia became the first nation to adopt communism as its political ideology. Between 1917 and 1979, Marxist revolutions would reach the Baltic region of Europe, China, and Cuba, and Africa. This spread was not without opposition, and large-scale conflicts between communist regimes and their belligerents erupted in the Korean Peninsula (1950-1953) and Vietnam (1955-1975).

Safari Club
Karl Marx (wikicommons)

Watergate and the Spirit of the Age

In a global sense, the United States has historically been near the apex of the vanguard fighting communism.

US actions in the Vietnam War are evidence of this, although its intervention inspired a national protest from a disenfranchised public.

Within American culture, Vietnam anti-war demonstrations are synonymous with the historic countercultural movement, both being crucial elements of the 1970s zeitgeist.

The military campaign in Vietnam was far from the only conflict within the American sphere during this period, and certainly not the sole causation of protest and unrest among the public.

A domestic political war was being waged in parallel.

The battle: President Richard Nixon vs. the checks and balances system granted by the US Constitution.

The battleground: Watergate. 

The revelations of the Watergate scandal unearthed a conspiracy at a presidential level.

On the 8th of August 1974, President Nixon resigned from the office, as he faced an inevitable impeachment trial for his corrupt actions. Nixon’s Vice President, Gerald Ford, swore into the presidency the following day.

Ford completed the final two years of Nixon’s elected term, but his re-election campaign fell short. The partisan pendulum had shifted to the other side of the political spectrum, and Jimmy Carter, a democrat, won the 1976 primary race.

A New Approach

Soon after inheriting the oval office, President Carter invoked hardline reforms on the intelligence community. The Watergate scandal and other controversies darkened the reputation of the intelligence community, including spying on citizens and controversial international assassination plots.

Carter appointed Navy Admiral Stansfield Turner as the head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1977. Director Turner swiftly invoked serious reforms, and on the 31st of October 1977, he announced the deconstruction of over 800 positions in the clandestine operations wing.

In the time following, hundreds of other intelligence workers left the community because of involuntary retirement and job termination.

Turner synchronously mandated the CIA to resign the use of human intelligence gathering methods (HUMINT) and switch to primarily signals and communications gathering (SIGINT & COMINT).

Presidential driven reforms during Turner’s tenure as director changed the methods intelligence operations traditionally used. Gone were the days of covert operations and limited accountability, in were the days of increased bureaucracy, accountability, and “by the book” standard operating procedures.

The CIA became alike Fortunato in Edgar Allen Poe’s work The Cask of Amontillado.

It was entombed.

Safari Club
Stansfield Turner being sworn in by President Jimmy Carter, 1977 (wikicommons)

The Safari Club was a multi-lateral Cold War Era clandestine group with the mission of fighting the global spread of communism.

Not Your Average Safari or Club

“the club sat on ninety-one acres of magnificent landscape, with Mount Kenya as a backdrop. There were mountain streams, rose gardens, waterfalls flowing into quiet pools… Peacocks, storks, ibexes, and exotic birds strolled about…”

Ronald Kessler, “The Richest Man in the World”

Exotic animals were not the only rare entity to grace the Mount Kenya Safari Club’s breathtaking backdrop.

In 1976, a clandestine meeting of international intelligence professionals would convene there with a serious agenda.

That meeting drafted the architectural design of a covert task force whose mission was to fight the Eastern Bloc’s advancement in Africa and Asia.

The rapid spread of the communism was unprecedented. That spread, coupled with the state of the Turner era intelligence community, set the conditions that led to the creation of a new multi-lateral covert group: The Safari Club.

Count Alexandre de Marenches is a revered patriot of France, and the former director of the SDECE: the French external intelligence services. In 1976, Marenches dedicated substantial time to building relationships in the Middle East and acknowledging the threat Communism posed to the free world.

Marenches was a long-time friend to the US and had taken part in joint intelligence and military operations dating back to World War II. Through his connections, he also knew of the current state of the CIA, and was quite familiar with the threat Eastern Bloc powers presented to South Asia and Africa. To navigate through strict governmental oversight, Marenches contacted an array of trusted intelligence heads who were friends of France and the US.

The request – to help in countering the communist threat without direct US support – was an early building block in the club’s construction.

The group rendezvoused at the Mount Kenya Safari Club, where they gained their infamous moniker. Five members attended this meeting:

  • Count Alexandre de Marenches, French SDECE
  • Ahmed Dlimi, Director of Moroccan Intelligence
  • Kamal Hassan Ali, Director of the Mukhabarat (Egyptian Intelligence)
  • General Nematollah Nassiri, SAVAK (Iranian Intelligence)   
  • Kamal Adham, Director of Saudi Intelligence
Safari Club
Mt. Kenya Safari Club (wikicommons)

The Scope Is Set

Morocco, Iran and Egypt contributed to the effort with troops and arms. France supplied the security and communications equipment. Saudi Arabia was the primary funder, using their prolific revenue from the oil trade to the club’s advantage.

By authorization of President Anwar al-Sadat of Egypt, Cairo became the Safari Club’s de facto command operations center, which included a physical space with its own support, planning, and operations sections.

With all the requirements for conducting covert missions in place, the Safari Club was finally on their way to carrying out the operations that would define their legacy.

On the 1st of September 1976, the official Safari Club charter reached legislation. It was time to embark on a safari into metaphorical land – or scorched earth hellscape – of communism, and to confront the violent militant movements that follow its ideology in unison.

Director Turner may have thought he impeded the CIA’s involvement in shadowy affairs, but the Safari Club had the strength derived from a shared goal. A goal of that magnitude has its way of being achieved. The club understood the reality of the mission, how it transcended the confines of bureaucracy, and that required a multi-lateral partnership.

For America, rebellion against Turner was a requirement.

Crooks, Criminals, and International Banks

In Hollywood cinema, hyper-dramatized portrayals of covert operations are doctrine.

Dead drops, wire taps, shell companies laundering money through corrupt banks to avoid state mandated restrictions – all elements of a good plot.

If the creation of the Safari Club was not mythical enough, they took directly the primary way they financed it out of a Hollywood producers’ playbook.

Prior to President Carter’s appointment of Director Turner, future President George H. W. Bush was at the CIA’s helm. Although Bush’s tenure was during the final year of the Ford administration, he used his role to help bolster the agency and its global operational capabilities.

Sheikh Kamal Adham from the Saudi Arabian Kingdom was a founding member of the Safari Club, and a close associate of Director Bush. Adham and Bush had alternative agendas in the realm of intelligence, yet determined that the establishment of a clandestine bank network would be beneficial for both states, despite conflicting motives.

On his end, Bush cleverly circumnavigated the Washington D.C. bureaucracy in partnership with Adham. He prayed for a clandestine guardian angel, and thus came arabella.

Beyond Blood Money

Its name was the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI): a front for the agency’s most covert operations, and Bush’s shield from governmental oversight.

BCCI was once a small merchant bank of Pakistani origin. Under Adham’s watch, the bank expanded and began purchasing and absorbing small international banks, forming a rapidly growing network.

Funding covert operations was not the BCCI’s only practice, and a later investigation would end up exposing its internal structure. Its true nature sounded more like a mafia operation.

For instance, some of the more infamous clientele of the bank were Saddam Hussein and the Medellin Cartel. In 1991, Time Magazine published an expose on the BCCI, and claimed it contained a paramilitary wing that conducted assassinations.

Despite the highly questionable ethical, BCCI was the perfect front for the Safari Club’s work.

Safari Club
Bank of Credit and Commerce International building in Karachi, Pakistan (wikicommons)

The Safari Club Enters Zaire

The first account of the Safari Club’s activities took place in the African state of Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo).

Somewhere between 1977 and 1978, East Germany and Cuba contributed to the breakdown of stability within Zaire, in the political and social spheres. When the opportunity arose, they exploited Zaire’s vulnerabilities for strategic gain. Societal breakdown led to Zaire being the target of an invasion from across the border of Angola. The Front for the National Liberation of the Congo (FNLC) was the invading force.

The FNLC’s primary objective was to remove the Zairian president, Mobutu Sese Seko, from office.

Enemy of My Enemy

Although lack of concise evidence makes it difficult to clarify, Seko’s public rhetoric claimed that Cuba allegedly trained the FNLC in Angola, both militarily and ideologically. This exposed a deeper motive for the invasion, one that alluded to a higher involvement, rather than a tribal conflict. Despite having a “peaks and valleys” sort of relationship with the US, Seko shared their anti-communist stance. He understood the necessity of having a powerful ally on his side. Especially one that understood the potential ramifications if Zaire fell into the hands of the Eastern Bloc.

The Shaba Province of Zaire was a location of French and Belgium mining operations. Its natural resources were bountiful, and ripe for exploitation by historic colonizers of the continent.

In 1977, the FNLC made their way through the country and ended up in Shaba, where they faced resistance from Seko’s men. French and Belgium mining operations were under threat, and the Safari Club had the resources to help.

The club finally had a mission and began exporting their resources to Zaire. France spearheaded the transportation effort using their air assets, with Morocco and Egypt supplying muscle on the ground.

The Safari Club’s intervention ultimately led to a turning of the tide in Shaba and became the first victory, showcasing the versatile nature of their multilateral operations.

Safari Club
FNLA forces training Zaire; via KonflictCam


European colonialization devastated Africa. 

Although formal colonialization is relatively over, the fractures and land disputes caused by it remain as a residual and traumatic reminder of the past.

France, Italy and Britain were three of the nations who had colonies in Africa going back to the mid-19th century. Their empires claimed large parts of the continent and its natural resources (also known as the Partition of Africa). 

Not long after World War II, European powers transferred land back to the control of the African people.

The Paris Peace Treaties of 1947 were the impetus of that transfer and constructed an agenda to assist the process. Docket items included finding solutions to border disputes and awarding financial reparations to nations affected by the war. Ethiopia and Somalia were two of the affected countries. Both nations were survivors of European colonialization, and subjects of the peace treaties.

Reorganizing the boundaries of Ethiopia and Somalia was far from simple. The authors of the treaties drew lines in the Horn of Africa between the Italians (Italian Somaliland), the British (British Somaliland), and Ethiopia.

The proposed border solutions became highly contested. Ethiopia gained the Ogaden region from the British during the re-partition. This decision led to a territorial dispute. Tensions rose and morphed into a military campaign between Somalia and Ethiopia.

Beyond the Borders

Historically, the Soviet Union and Cuba supported both Somalia and Ethiopia with advisory training and other forms of aid. With much deception, the promise of Soviet and Cuban support was a smaller fragment of a bigger goal: the spread of Marxism and projection of power.

The Soviet Union and Cuba viewed Somalia and Ethiopia as a potentially unified socialist state. As tensions between the two African nations escalated, Cuban President Fidel Castro organized a summit in Yemen. Castro wanted to find a solution to the conflict, with reconciliation and peace as the end-state. 

Not long after the summits conclusion, Somali forces, under the order of President Siad Barre, invaded Ethiopia, with reclaiming the Ogaden as the primary objective, which sparked the Ethio-Somali War (1977-1978).

Cuba and the Soviet Union took Ethiopia’s side, abandoning the prior support for Somalia. Gone were Castro’s hopes for a diplomatic resolve; in was an Ethiopian state bolstered by two established communist powers.

The Safari Club intervened to support President Siad Barre and Somalia. Early help came as arms dealings. Egypt had a hefty surplus of old soviet weapons to sell and Saudi Arabia used their limitless surplus of Petro-dollars for financial support. Iran, under a directive of the Shah, assisted through the export of anti-tank and mortar systems.

The Club refrained from deploying Moroccan or Egyptian militants, as they did in Shaba, in contrast to the opposition.

Thousands of Cuban and Soviet soldiers and an abundance of military hardware supported Ethiopia, and despite the Club’s attempt at helping Somalia, money and military hardware alone wasn’t enough.

In March 1978, Somalia conceded, bringing an end to the conflict, and a loss to the Club. 

Safari Club
Siad Barre meeting with Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia (wikicommons)

Diplomacy on Safari

Fighting communism may have been the Safari Club’s primary goal, but they wielded influence in other arenas, including a knack for diplomacy and mediation between countries at odds.

Egypt and Israel have a history of tension going back to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

In 1947, the United Nations attempted to partition Palestine between the Arabs and the Jews. Israel, as a nation, was born from that divide, as did a military response from the Arab world, who passionately disapproved of it.

The Israeli state faced the Arab League, a coalition of Middle Eastern countries formed in 1945, as well as foreign fighters sympathetic to their desire for the partitioned land. The war lasted for almost ten years until the belligerents signed an armistice agreement in 1949. This began a long period of military and diplomatic tensions between Israel and the Arab world. Those tensions continue to this day.

A Hidden Correspondence

Within the ranks of the Safari Club, Morocco had established intelligence back-channels with Israel going back to the 1950s. King Hassan II of Morocco had a historically favorable opinion towards the idea of peace between the Arab world and Israel, and supported grafting the latter into the Arab League.

By the 1970s, murmurs of a peace agreement swirled in Middle Eastern diplomatic circles. Israel was transparent of their desire to strike a peace deal with Egypt, who were both a club member and belligerent to Israel during the 1948 war.

In 1977, using the Moroccan Safari Club representative as a proxy, Israel informed Egypt of a Libyan grown assassination plot. This came as an act of charity and symbol of intent for peace between the nations.

Israel’s act of benevolence had a warm reception from Egypt and was arguably the pivoting moment in the diplomatic relations between the nations. King Hassan began hosting talks between Israeli and Egyptian intelligence leaders, which led to Egyptian president Anwar Sadat visiting Jerusalem in 1977, and the eventual Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty of 1979. 

Safari Club
King Hassan II and President Jimmy Carter (wikicommons)

An Unexpected Revolution

The beginning of the Safari Club’s end involved revolution, although not of communist origin. 

In the 1970s, the Iranian public had enough. Progressive policies invoked throughout the Shah’s reign created disdain among the Islamic clergy, and the human rights abuses of the SAVAK (Iranian intelligence agency) revealed a vast power disparity between the people of Iran and their government. Safari Club member Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and his SAVAK intelligence force became targets and rebranded as the enemy of the people.

In the mid to late 1970s, anti-government protests circulated across the Iranian capital of Tehran. These protests – which were overwhelmingly peaceful – drew millions of citizens. The rhetoric of the protests expressed the public’s desire for the Shah to step down. Ayatollah Khomeini, an exiled Shia cleric who strongly opposed the Shah, was the intended replacement. 

On the 16th of February 1979, the Shah and his wife left the country, never to return. Less than a month later, Ayatollah Khomeini came out of exile and returned to Iran, intending to dismantle the government, rebuild it to align with fundamentalist Islamic values.

With the Shah in exile and the SAVAK dissolved, the Club lost one of its strongest members.

Safari Club
Ayatollah Khomeini returning to Iran from exile (wikicommons)

The Bear Went Over the Mountain

The Iranian Revolution was a pivotal shift in the Safari Club. Despite the string of setbacks, remaining members continued their work.

Alexandre de Marenches shifted his focus to the Soviet’s interest in Afghanistan in what would arguably be one of the club’s last interventions.

Afghanistan is a vast land full of natural resources. Although it is geographically land-locked, the Soviet Union saw it as a strategic point in their effort to establish a warm water port. A successful conquest of Afghanistan could give the Russia a launching pad for an eventual push to the Indian Ocean through Pakistan or India.

An ideological shift in Afghanistan was needed to prepare.

In 1978, the Soviet Union influenced a communist revolution in Afghanistan, installing their own proxy into power. 
Marenches knew that this was a serious threat, which was confirmed by other international intelligence agencies.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. This was the beginning of a nine-year war that would not end well for the Russian bear.

In 1989, the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan. Their puppet government dissolved, setting conditions for the eventual rule of the Taliban.

Another corpse in the so-called “graveyard of empires”.

The Safari Club had a limited role in the war effort against the Soviets. Facilitating the funneling of money and arms to the Mujahideen was the extent of their involvement. They achieved that primarily through the BCCI, along with the passing of intelligence between Safari Club members and their allies.

The Safari Must End

Following the Soviet-Afghanistan war, the Safari Club’s time reached its course.

1981 marked a watershed moment for US intelligence agencies following Ronald Reagan’s victory in the presidential race. Reagan appointed William J. Casey to replace Director Turner at the CIA post, which shifted the pendulum back to the pre-Turner days.

Director Casey carried out his own reforms in the intelligence community. Agencies were, once again, unchained. The Safari Club was no longer needed to carry out covert operations.

Through its time, the club played a vital role in the fight against Marxism throughout Africa and South Asia. As a whole, its actions directly contributed to the outcomes of various international conflicts, in both a positive and negative way.

The Safari Club did what they thought was right to preserve the integrity of nations they operated in, and in opposition to the monumental threat of communism.

 Revolutions may come and go, but the legacy of the Club is forever.

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.”

Karl Marx

Frumentarii: The Secret Service of Rome

Troops entering camp (scene CIX); Roman legionaries foraging (scene CX) relief made by Greek Military enigneer and architect Apollodorus of Damascus

Frumentarii were a intelligence gathering force in ancient Rome. Their legacy was fascinating to view compared to early espionage practices

Unofficially speaking, and as the semi-well-known yet somewhat niche cliché goes, “espionage is the world’s second oldest profession”.

From ancient Mesopotamia onwards, the intelligence craft has changed with the ebbs and flows of history. The contemporary lens of that we often use to recollect history can deliver us to the eras of World War II and the Cold War as being the real turning point in the modernization and formalization of intelligence gathering, but even the commonly used idiom “cloak and dagger” has its origins in 18th century French dramas, where stories were told of clandestine identities and harrowing assassination plots.

In an older CIA publication about the early days of espionage, author Rose Mary Sheldon writes:

“A soon as man learned to create documents, he began to classify them. This is another indication that gathering intelligence is as old as civilization itself. Techniques regarded as completely modern have actually existed for thousands of years. Archaeological discoveries in the Near East, especially in Syria, have uncovered evidence of societies where espionage activities were rampant. Intelligence gathering was second nature to any ruler who wanted to protect the safety and independence of his city and who valued his own life.”

Rose Mary Sheldon

With this in frame of reference in mind, we can set our sights on the days of the Roman Empire and take a look at one of their lesser known yet equally fascinating intelligence gathering forces: the Frumentarii.

Frumentarii: Of Grain and Espionage

Hadrian was one of the Roman Empires “Five Good Emperors”. His reign lasted 21 years (117-138 AD) and was marked with positive accounts of empire unification and cultural reforms. In a more relative to the central topic sense, he is known to have modified the use of the Roman secret service, or Frumentarii.

The Frumentarii existed before Hadrian’s reign. According to scholar William G. Sinnegan:

“Domitian was probably the first to recognize that they could be an excellent liaison between the provinces and the general staff at the capital, and to detach some of them from their legionary headquarters for temporary duty as couriers in the service of ‘G-4’ at Rome.”

Grain purchasing and distribution amongst Roman military personnel was the early task of the Frumentarii, which placed them in a position of constant travel across the empire, and with regular interactions with roman officials, military leaders, and civilians. Both Domitian and in a greater degree Hadrian realized the intelligence gathering potential of the force, with the later converting them into his own Praetorian guard. It is claimed “he wanted to know the things he shouldn’t know”, and the Frumentarii were the perfect storm for that cause.

The Frumentarii are Coming!

As the utilization and development of the unit advanced, so did fear and paranoia amongst the residents of the Roman provinces. According to HistoryNet:

“Their activities did not endear the Frumentarii to the general public. Roman administrators could be arbitrary, authoritarian, and corrupt. When they became involved in tax collecting and detecting subversion, the temptations to corruption were even greater. A third-century writer described the provinces as ‘enslaved by fear,’ since spies were everywhere. Many Romans and people in the provinces found it impossible to think or speak freely for fear of being spied upon. The snooping of the Frumentarii became rampant by the late third century, and their behavior was compared to that of a plundering army. They would enter villages ostensibly in pursuit of political criminals, search homes, and then demand bribes from the locals.”

In that regard, it is interesting to draw parallels between the Frumentarii and more modern renditions of secret police, such as the Nazi Gestapo, the East German Stasi, and Mao’s Keng Sheng. Power classically brings corruption, and a secret police force can easily go down a slippery slope when such power is held over an entire population.

Apart from monitoring the actions of political actors and civilians, the Frumentarii were also prolific in the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire.

The Frumentarii in the New Testament

A selection of texts from Christian New Testament scriptures (Gospel of Mark, Acts) reference Roman officials who some scholars attribute to be part of the unit. The contexts in which they are mentioned in these scriptures usually coincide with the actions taken against Christians at the time, by the direction of the Roman government. HistoryNet writes:

“Secret police agents, the frumentarii participated in the persecution of Christians. They were among the chief agents who spied on Christians and had them arrested. The soldier who supervised Saint Paul in Rome while he was awaiting trial was a frumentarius. Early Church historian Eusebius reports the tale of a Christian named Dionysius who was being hunted by the secret police. He hid in his house for four days. Meanwhile the frumentarius was searching high and low but never thought to search the man’s house. Dionysius made his escape with the help of the Christian underground.”

Disbandment & Legacy

A slew of abuses of power and public disdain for the Frumentarii led to their eventual disbandment during the time of Emperor Diocletian (284-305 AD). Instead of completely abandoning the idea of a secret police/intelligence gathering unit, Diocletian restructured and reformed the Frumentarii into the “agentes in rebus” – general agents of the empire – who took on similar duties as their predecessors, albeit with a tighter leash on.

It is said that on his death bed, Hadrian wrote a poem titled “Little Soul”:

Little soul little stray

little drifter

now where will you stay

all pale and all alone

after the way

you used to make fun of things

It may be a bit of a stretch, but in a way that poem can be used to describe the Frumentarii, as straying drifters traveling across the empire, perhaps even making fun of things like spying, intelligence gathering, and the persecution of enemies of the state.

Nevertheless, the Frumentarii left behind a tainted legacy, despite being known as having a great deal of social status in the empire. Not only were they a fascinating example of early espionage practices but were also a prime example of the potential for abuse of power and corruption within more contemporary units that share a similar nomenclature.