The US ambassador to Mali announced last week that the US will give more than $5 million of military equipment to the Mali government. This assistance is being given to support efforts by the Mali government to combat growing extremism in the West African nation. This funding is separate from the $123 million that the State Department has requested in the FY 2010 budget for Mali. The bulk of the FY 2010 requested funds are non-security related, designed to support development and economic expansion, global health initiatives, and provide food assistance to one of the world’s poorest nations. The donated military equipment is reflective of growing concerns by the West that Mali has become increasingly susceptible to Islamic extremism, particularly the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Al-Qaida's North Africa branch.
The AQIM operates mainly in neighboring Algeria, however the group is suspected of crossing Mali's porous borders and spreading violence in northwestern Africa. There has been increased AQIM presence in northern Mali, and the group has carried out a string of violent attacks against Westerners and African security forces. Northern Mali is large (comparable in size to Texas) sparsely populated, and loosely governed. This combination has provided the AQIM with safe havens and, from the US perspective, has necessitated a more capable Mali security force to counter this emerging terrorist threat.
The US will provide Mali’s security forces with 37 new Land Cruiser pickup trucks, communications equipment, military clothing, and additional replacement parts, clothing, individual equipment and other supplies. Such assistance is expected to increase Mali’s ability to secure its borders, and increase the Malian security forces’ ability to “move, transport and communicate across wide expanses of open desert.”
Security concerns related to extremism is only part of the story. Mali is among the poorest countries in the world with an estimated unemployment rate of 30 percent and $1,200 GDP per capita with large income disparities. The huge population of unemployed young men combined with an increasing presence of more extreme forms of Islam has prompted the US to provide both non-military support and military training aimed to curb extremism.
Mali exemplifies a growing trend in US foreign engagement which increasingly combines support to foreign security forces through training and equipment with traditional foreign assistance. As demonstrated in the graph, the FY 2010 request is 60 percent larger than FY 2009 enacted levels, with significant increases in Development Assistance (DA) and Global Health and Child Services (GHCS). Food aid (PL 480, Title II), the third largest account, would remain constant at $10 million if the request is fully funded. Security-related assistance funded through the International Affairs budget is small, accounting for one percent of the FY 2010 request.
This graph does not include funds for independent agencies, such as the Peace Corps and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). The Peace Corps budget is roughly $3 million for more than 150 volunteers serving in Mali. Additionally, the government of Mali signed a compact with the MCC in 2006 for a $460 million grant to support agro-business development, airport modernization and extension, and an industrial zone development.