Socialist Worker

Mauritania: US dirty tricks in the Sahara area

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 1964

The fall last week of Mauritania’s leader, president Taya, emphasised how fragile the US’s control is over much of the world.

Taya has led Mauritania (in the Sahara region of West Africa) for over 20 years. Although at one time a close ally of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, he became the US’s greatest friend in the region and a key player in imperialism’s plan to dominate the Sahara.

Last week as he was flying back from King Fahd’s funeral in Saudi Arabia, Taya discovered he had been supplanted by a military coup. The attempt to remove him hardly came a surprise as there had been three previous attempts in the last two years.

And, as previously, the US, the European Union and the African Union all weighed in with support for Taya and denunciation of the coup.

After the 2003 coup attempt the US state department, apparently without irony, paused from its pummelling of Iraq to announce that “we oppose attempts to change governments through extra-constitutional and violent means.” On that occasion Taya was able to hold on. But last week it soon became obvious that he had become so unpopular that there was no possibility of returning to the palace.

The US’s rhetoric turned around. “The guys running the country right now are the guys we’re dealing with because they’re the ones making the decisions,” said US state department spokesman Adam Ereli.

There are some theories that Taya had become so outrageous in his claims about “Islamic terorrism” undermining his rule that he was exposing the weakness of the US case about the “Islamic threat” and that therefore the Bush gang may not have been too unhappy to see him go.

In any case they will now work hard to bring the new leaders of Mauritania into line with US strategy. Under the guise of “combating terrorism” the US has been strengthening its support in the area. The interest is not (as Niger demonstrates) about human development. It is about strategic territory and resources — especially oil.

Today 15 percent of oil consumed in the US comes from Africa and that could rise to 25 percent in a decade. Within the next 12 months, Mauritania will be producing 75,000 barrels of crude oil per day and is hoping to find more lucrative oil reserves offshore.


The US had been building networks of support in Africa even before the “war on terror”. Under president Clinton, the African Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI) was set up in secret. This enabled the US to establish “military assistance programmes” in Senegal, Uganda, Malawi, Ghana, Benin, Algeria, Niger, Mali and Chad. ACRI is run by Colonel Nestor Pino-Marina, a Cuban exile who took part in the 1961 Bay of Pigs landing, then went on to be a special forces officer in Vietnam and Laos, and who helped lead the Contra invasion of Nicaragua.

This June 1,000 members of the US military arrived throughout North and West Africa to participate in exercise Flintlock 2005. Military training took place in several countries. To spice up the event—which involved a fictional scenario involving a terrorist group being chased across national borders—a real assault was announced a few days before the Americans arrived in the region.

Fifteen Mauritanian soldiers were reportedly killed in an attack on an army base on the border with Algeria and Mali, which has been blamed on Islamic insurgents.

The GSPC, or Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, claimed responsibility for the attack via a website. But Jeremy Keenan, a British expert on the Sahara, says the GSPC website proves nothing. “Pretty well everyone in the Sahara doesn’t believe the GSPC have done it,” he says. “The coincidence with Flintlock starting the day before is just too great.”

Keenan claims the Algerians have used the GSPC as a way of seducing the US into the region. “Probably 90 percent of the Saharan population knows that the GSPC is just a pseudonym for the Algerian security services.” He says the Algerians have shaken off their pariah status and obtained previously withheld military equipment from the US.

But the fall of Taya emphasises how quickly the US plans can come unstuck. Those who have taken over (military men with roots in the Taya regime itself) offer no hope to the ordinary people of Mauritania. But if elite forces can cause problems for the US, imagine what genuinely popular mobilisation could do.

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Article information

Sat 20 Aug 2005, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1964
Share this article


Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.