As the US mulls its position on military intervention in Mali and looks to continue shoring up other governments in the Sahel, the debate over how best to use aid in the region has grown sharper.
For Todd Moss at the Center for Global Development (CGD), the performance of the Malian army and the collapse of the Malian state is a “pretty big indictment” of US counterterrorism efforts there. Moss, who served as Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of African Affairs at the State Department from 2007 to 2008, wrote on CGD’s “Rethinking US Foreign Assistance Blog,” that the crisis in Mali “suggests that something is very wrong about the U.S. approach to counterterrorism cooperation in the Sahel.”
At the center of the debate is the Trans Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership (TSCTP), a State Department-led inter-agency effort to combat terrorism in the Sahel.
Sources from three separate agencies involved in TSCTP programming told The Christian Science Monitor that State Department officials regularly expressed concerns over the out-sized role of the US military within TSCTP. And while the program aims to take a holistic approach, TSCTP resembles an aggregation of traditional bilateral foreign assistance programs. For critics, these disparities are indicative of a broader failure to establish a comprehensive strategy.
Officials push back that there is a strategy. Says one State Department official in Mali: “The assistance focused on building military, law enforcement, and civil society capacity, and programs to provide greater economic opportunities to populations potentially vulnerable to radicalization.”
Yet many of these activities – centered around community empowerment practices, small-scale infrastructure such as wells, educational programs, vocational training, and community radio programs – read like a list of tenuously linked development assistance projects, and serious questions remain as to whether empirical evidence suggests that these types programs are even effective in combating terrorism in the Sahel.