coup maker

Mali: Coup leader Assimi Goïta is from an elite fighting unit

By Aïssatou Diallo

Posted on August 26, 2020 10:25

The young colonel who overthrew President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta presents himself as the president of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People. Until then, he had been commander of a special forces battalion based in the Center region.

“I am Colonel Assimi Goïta, president of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People [CNSP]”.

It was with these words, pronounced in hesitant tone before the press summoned to the Kati military camp, that the head of the military junta announced himself on 19 August.

“Mali is in a situation of socio-political and security crisis. We no longer have the right to make mistakes. By making this intervention yesterday, we have put the country above [everything]. Mali first,” added the 37-year-old officer, giving the reasons that led the military to carry out the coup.

READ MORE Mali Coup d’État : Military proposes three-year transition

The day before, he had already appeared in front of the cameras alongside four other CNSP leaders when the CNSP made the coup official on ORTM. Then he seemed to have retreated, and did not speak out. But he was finally chosen to head the CNSP after internal negotiations.

According to those who knew him during his – young – career, the forty-year-old is far from the thundering Moussa Dadis Camara, who briefly led the military junta in Guinea in 2008, nor does he resemble the whimsical Amadou Haya Sanogo, ephemeral leader of the Malian putschists who overthrew Amadou Toumani Touré in 2012. “He is a calm and thoughtful man,” says a senior officer in the Malian army, who knows him well from having worked with him on previous missions.

READ MORE ‘There has been no coup d’état in Mali’ – Ismaël Wagué, CNSP spox

His first act in charge was to meet with senior officials of the Ministry of Defense on Wednesday. “It was my duty to meet with the various officials so that we can assure them of our support for the continuity of state services” he said.

Elite unit

Assimi Goïta was trained in Kati’s military Prytanée. Like many of the leaders of the CNSP, he is also a graduate of the École interarmes (Emia) in Koulikoro. Upon graduating from the Emia, he was assigned to the 134th Reconnaissance Squadron of Gao from 2002 to 2005, before being sent to Kidal, where he will remain until 2008.

He then took command of a battle group in the fight against terrorist groups and drug trafficking until 2010, before joining the special forces in 2014.

In August 2016, he attended training at the George C European Center for Security Studies. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, which is part of the U.S. Department of Defense and the German Federal Ministry of Defense.

Colonel Goïta was until now the commander of the Autonomous Battalion of Special Forces and Warfare Centers (BAFS-CA), created in May 2018 and based in Mopti, in the center of the country. This position earned him the rank of Deputy Chief of Army Staff.

“His rank and position give him a good reputation in the rest of the army, even outside his battalion,” said a Malian officer, who wished to remain anonymous. The BAFS-CA is indeed an elite unit, well trained, and generally operating with discretion.

The members of the battalion led by Colonel Goïta work regularly with the American armed forces in the field. They also participate in “Flintlock” exercises, which bring together elements of several African armies and American soldiers on the same  manoeuvres.

Recalled to Bamako to face the demonstrators

Within the Centre, BAFS-CA personnel are responsible for, among other things, planning, coordinating and conducting counter-terrorism operations, assisting in the gathering and transmission of intelligence, supporting conventional forces when required, and providing protection to local authorities in the Central region.

But it is also in this part of the country, where there is regular inter-communal violence and jihadist attacks, that the Malian army is regularly accused of extra-judicial executions, including by the UN.

According to our information, Colonel Goïta was recalled to Bamako a month ago to participate in maintaining order in the face of the demonstrations organised since the beginning of June by the Mouvement du 5 juin-Rassemblement des forces patriotiques du Mali (M5-RFP), the heterogeneous coalition calling for the departure of President IBK.

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