Albares outlines relations with Bamako as he does not rule out NATO intervention in Mali

The foreign minister denied his statements during a telephone conversation with his Malian counterpart, Abdoulaye Diop

PHOTO/NATO  -   The Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Manuel Albares, during a meeting with NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Manuel Albares, responded to RNE's microphones on Thursday that he could not rule out a hypothetical NATO intervention in Mali. "If it were necessary and if it posed a threat to our security, we would do it," Albares said, according to Reuters. The words resonated in Bamako, and particularly irritated his Malian counterpart, Abdoulaye Diop, who decided to immediately summon the Spanish ambassador to Mali to explain.

The Spanish diplomat, José Hornero Gómez, went to the Malian foreign ministry on Friday to justify the statements of his boss, considered "unacceptable" by the military junta headed by Colonel Assimi Goita. "His words seek to encourage aggression against an independent and sovereign country," Diop said on public television ORTM before announcing that a meeting had taken place with the Spanish ambassador "to raise our protest".

The minister [Albares] should remember that the situation of insecurity and the spread of terrorism in the Sahel is linked to NATO's intervention in Libya, of which we are suffering the consequences," the Malian foreign minister stressed, "which is why we have asked the Spanish government for an explanation, a clarification of these words, and we hope that it will come quickly".

And so it has been. On Saturday morning, the Spanish Embassy in Mali and Burkina Faso issued a terse statement denying having requested "neither during the NATO Summit nor at any other time an intervention, mission or any kind of action in Mali by the Alliance". "Spain reaffirms its deep ties of friendship and cooperation with Mali and will continue to promote peaceful and friendly relations with Mali," the statement concludes.

The explanations of the ambassador, in office since 11 September 2020, seem to have satisfied the Malian authorities, wary of foreign intervention after more than a decade under French and Western military presence. Since the Tuareg secessionist challenge of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) in 2012, and the rise of the Islamist insurgency, Paris, in collaboration with other European capitals, has deployed several operations to tackle jihadist radicalisation. To no avail.

Anti-French, and to a greater extent anti-Western, sentiment is spreading like wildfire across Mali and the rest of the Sahel in the absence of tangible results. Terrorist attacks are a constant and the numerous jihadist groups operating in the area control large swathes of territory, imposing their law. It was, moreover, the fall of Muammar Gaddafi's Libyan regime following NATO's intervention that triggered the latest wave of insurgency, which has now lasted for 10 years.

For the first time, the Madrid Strategic Concept considers threats from the Southern Flank, with special mention of chronic instability in regions such as the Middle East, North Africa and the Sahel. In his remarks, Minister Albares referred to the latter in the context of hybrid threats such as irregular migration flows, but the head of Spanish diplomacy did not take into account the context of his words.

Mali broke off relations with France and expelled its ambassador to the country, Joel Meyer, in response to President Emmanuel Macron's negative statements about the "illegitimacy" of the Bamako military junta, which came to power in two separate coups in the space of nine months. Colonel Assimi Goita forced the withdrawal of French and Western troops, hiring instead mercenaries from the Kremlin-linked Wagner group, known in the region for their atrocities against civilians.

The military junta's latest "conquest" was the anticipated end of the European anti-terrorist force, Takuba Task Force, on Malian soil, announced on Friday by the French army's General Staff. Spanish missions were reportedly put at serious risk by Minister Albares' comments. Spain currently provides the largest contingent to EUTM Mali, and is present in the UN missions EUCAP Mali and MINUSMA. This is why the reaction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation has not been long in coming.

The telephone conversation between Albares and his Malian counterpart, Abdoulaye Diop, ended after 7 p.m. (CEST) on Saturday. During the exchange, the head of Spanish diplomacy 'denied and expressed his commitment to friendly relations and cooperation with Mali', according to Diop's version. Hours earlier, it had been the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Ángeles Moreno Bau, who, according to the Malian Foreign Ministry, had been in charge of the dialogue with the Malian foreign minister in charge of Sahel strategies, Abdoulaye Tounkara, in order to resolve the error.