The bombing of a wedding celebration in #Mali that killed 19 civilians has exposed France’s drone war in Africa, its opacity and impunity. A new base has been dedicated to these operations out of Niamey, Niger and the French government has both refused to acknowleddge its responsibility in the Bounti massacre despite UN accusations, but has also remained evasive on how these drones are commanded, how targets are identified and who gets to greenlight a strike.
To present his report on the topic and further share his findings on France’s drone war, Khalil Dewan, head of investigations at Stowke White Lawyers (London) is Yasser Louati’s latest guest on #LeBreakdown.
How France’s growing reliance on drone is leading to blindly bombing civilians in parts of Africa like Mali.
After the bombing of a wedding celebration in the town of Bounti, Mali that left 19 civilians dead, a damning UN report contradicted claims by the French government that armed extremists were on site. To this day, France has consistently refuted the accusation and has stuck to its narrative of targeting terrorists in the central Malian town and has so far ignored calls by Malians to hold its military personnel to account.
Six months later, on July 3rd, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that he will be ending “Operation Barkhane” and withdraw troops from the region. But what he failed to announce, was the increase in the number of French drones that will be taking off from the Niamy, Niger airbase and continue drone operations with the sole purpose of continuing what troops on the ground had been doing since 2013.
Armed drones are becoming an integral part of France’s military operations abroad but nothing has transpired in terms of strategy, chain of command, usage policies and when/how a strike is ordered. The Bounti, Mali massacre and the impunity that has followed has prompted the CJL to cover the topic through Le Breakdown and Yasser Louati who received Khalil Dewan head of investigations at the London based Stoke White lawfirm, and author of the report: France’s Shadow War in Mali: Airstrikes at the Bounti Wedding.In this episode, we covered the horrific bombing of civilians in Mali but also how the 20 year long US drone war and its thousands of civilian casualties has not deterred France from launching its own, and, to make things worse, without any transparency. Le Breakdown is brought to you the CJL, the Committee for Justice & Liberties. We are an independent human rights and civil liberties organization.
Sat, 8/7 11:21AM • 55:40
drones, france, targeted, speak, french, people, ground, mali, report, civilians, questions, investigation, armed, strike, operation, drone warfare, killing, military, effectively, attack
Khalil Dewan, Yasser Louati
Yasser Louati 00:00
You’re listening to Le Breakdown. This is Yasser Louati speaking. This podcast is offered to you by the CJL. Committee for Justice and Liberties. We are an independent human rights and civil liberties organization, thanks to our donors. If you too would like to support our investigative reporting, political education and mobilization work, you can make a donation on CJ L.ONG. Welcome to Le Breakdown. This is your host Yasser Louati coming to you straight from the Paris South side Banlieue. Thanks again for joining us, we took a short break for the month of June and July. We are back this time with another episode of the show. This time dealing with what is happening right now in Africa. More precisely in Western Africa, in countries like Niger and Mali.
If you remember, earlier this year, there was a strike by the French military against a civilian population, the French government, under Emmanuel Macron said that “22 terrorists had been neutralized”; to use the lingo of the French military. It turned out that the UN is accusing France of having killed 19 civilians during a marriage. Now this is a typical situation where you have reports on the ground and from the UN, speaking of civilian casualties, and officials in Western governments and others, of course, claiming that it is not true and that whatever decision they took was for the good of mankind. And in this case, neutralizing terrorism.
To give you a background story, France has been present in Africa for over a century, if not more, if we count the, pre colonial era. But after the independences of the earlier or mid 20th century, a system of corruption, domination and exploitation has been kept in place a new colonial system called “la France Afrique”, which is a network of France led lobbies that are serving French interests in terms of political involvement and of course, military presence. Many people were happy when Emmanuel Macron spoke of France’s ending the operation “Barkhane” which was about countering terrorism. In the Sahel region.
Many applaud a thing that France, by scaling back its military presence, will be making a step towards leaving Africa to Africans and allowing Africans to manage their affairs. Well, it turned out that the decision to withdraw from Africa, US act was actually accompanied by an upscaling or an increase in military presence through drones. Yes, you heard me despite over a decade of reporting on drones, actually two decades of reports about US drones in the Middle East, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, the thousands of deaths will be speak about later on with my guests, we see that France now is taking the path of using automation and unmanned air vehicles to bomb people in Africa. Now, some years ago, Françoise Parly with the Minister of Defense, spoke of these roles and said they were only to be used for information and intelligence gathering. But of course, if you start using drones, of course, you’re going to test them to gather information. And sooner or later, you’re going to end up arming these rules.
And that’s exactly what happened with the French drones. A base was opened in the capital city of Niger, Niamy, and that base is being used for operating drones or at least French drones takeoff from that base. Despite the French denial over the Bounti killing, a report has just been published by investigative reporter and researcher kalila. Diwan based in London in the UK. The report speaks of the crimes committed by France. He gathered testimonies from people on the ground and of course, through his law firm is a trying to press the French government to answers over the killing of civilians, and at least to have some kind of indication whether France is using standard operating procedures in the operation of drones.
Now of course for those who are familiar with aviation, that means how drones are used and how you define targets and who takes a decision based on what elements. We’ll also ask Mr Diwan about the intelligence gathering process throughout to Europe, if there are any systems of accountability. And if there are reasons for us to worry about this new phase of French neo colonialism in Africa, after the Bounti killing and the French denial. I spoke long enough. So now I welcome Mr. Khalil Diwan to our show. How you doin? Welcome to you.
Khalil Dewan 05:23
Thank you very much. And thank you very much for having me on the show.
Yasser Louati 05:26
It’s a pleasure to have you. The report that you published through the law firm with which you work: Stoke white investigations is called Frances shadow war in Mali. airstrikes at the Bounti wedding. Now, you published this report not long ago, just a couple of days before recording. First, before we get into the report, could you please introduce yourself to our audience? And what prompted you to publish this report?
Khalil Dewan 05:57
Sure. So I have many years of experience investigating drone warfare in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, Syria as well. And I started working with sto quite recently, a law firm based in London, and we recently set up an investigative unit. And one of the things we sat down and we kind of decided upon is what should we look at first, and it you know, immediately I saw Reuters as well as aljazeera. And others covered this strike in Bhante, which really caught my eye because coming from a background of international law and human rights, is something I really wanted to look into, whilst the conflict in sahale has been ongoing for many years now. France’s use of drones for ASR missions, and spying effectively underground, to how he executes its targets hasn’t really been looked into in any shape or form. So this was very worrying. And I made the decision to look into this in particular.
Yasser Louati 07:03
So what were your first findings? When you when you began working on this airstrike, you’re over a wedding, in boon to you? Was it obvious to you that civilians have been targeted? Or did you have to go extensively through data to find out about the truth?
Khalil Dewan 07:18
Yeah, sure. So first of all, you know, when the strike occurred on the third of January 2021, journalists were, you know, effectively covering the story saying that civilians on the ground, were denying that an armed group was attacked, they were saying that, look, this was a wedding that was attacked, and the truth needs to be told. And you know, it rang alarm bells for us, really.
And then when we started investigating the incident going on the ground, you know, using open source intelligence, and you know, tracking everything, using particular means and sources, we realized very quickly that actually, a wedding indeed had been attacked. And this was very problematic.
Some of the testimonies that we captured, we spoke to individuals who said, Look, this was my cousin’s wedding. And we attended, I attended the wedding and all of a sudden there was a strike, you know, several people died, we run away as well, there were there were ships. And you know, they were taken away to nearby medical facilities by MSF. And three months later, the UN mission in Mali, they conducted a investigation was it was a decent investigation.
They also said that, indeed, was a wedding and several people had been killed. But the interesting part is that France denied the UN report and the and the allegation that civilians were killed. And this is also another thing, which was very alarming and has the hallmarks of denial of accountability and transparency that we have seen before. Whether it’s in Pakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan, and other places, including Yemen. And I think that is spoke to the world, particularly experts who have been working on drone warfare for many years, that this is an arena that must be looked at, for the sake of human rights and for the sake of the right to life.
Yasser Louati 09:13
In your report, you right that the victims were all men aged between 23 and 71. This is quite striking. Does it mean that France would deliberately target the gathering of men in that region and then decided because they are gathered in a specific location, there must be suspect and then targeted, which also raises questions, which means you, you target a gathering of men, there are suspects and a person decides to kill these people.
Khalil Dewan 09:42
Yeah, this is very good question. You know, what we have seen over the course of the last 20 years, when it comes to targeted killings and drone strikes is that for example, the US had this policy of targeting military age males. I’ve also found it quite interesting how you know, people were targeted in this fashion when they were all males and France were effectively claiming that this was indeed a group of armed men who are part of an armed group in this remote area just north of Bhante.
And what I would personally suggest, and I have mentioned it in my report is that France are targeting similar to the US, and in the manner in which they interpret international humanitarian law, the law of armed conflict, when they look at the procedures is something that needs to be more of a spotlight on, and also how they interpret as well, because what we have seen with regards to targeted killings is that there are very wide and loose interpretations on who can be targeted when and even if it is a combatant, when can you target them? These are questions which academics as well, as lawyers have been debating over the course of 20 years now. So it’s nothing new. But what is new is France is involvement in drones. And whilst they have been using ASR missions, you know, for you know, for their drones up into now, they also have been using armed attacks as well. So firing Hellfire missiles. And I think this is the time now to really put the spotlight on France’s attacks, because I really do think that the net of accountability is very far and wide and says something that I alluded to, in my report,
Yasser Louati 11:26
I, I really kind of guessed that you get in touch with the French government, in writing this report. When you contacted these people, if you have, what was the answer from the French military in terms of, are they sure the targeted armed combatants? And if they did under On what basis? Or what was the process that led up to pull the trigger and then hit these people? Have you been given any information on how this is being decided or not?
Khalil Dewan 11:57
Sure. So I did have several exchanges, actually, with the Ministry of armed forces. And I was communicating with someone quite regularly. And they were quite open to speaking to me about the buncee attack, but also more broadly in the Sahel region. And they asked them various pis specific questions, not not general questions about how targeting what their targeting procedures are, but very, very specific questions on targeting policy, what a legal advisor would expect.
And, you know, without any surprise, I didn’t actually receive any information. But they did tell me that they applied the law of a law of war and the law of armed conflict, which quite clearly there is discrepancy on their interpretation. Because if you can target a group of people thinking it’s lawful, and they were there, at a wedding party, and you couldn’t effectively, you know, decipher the difference between civilians and a combatant that is highly problematic. And if we look at the gathering itself, you know, we must be very clear, there were three individuals who are part of an armed group was on the testimonies, there’s some discrepancy in whether they were part of it or not, you know, international humanitarian law, the law of armed conflict has a lot to say about that, whether you can target them in such a situation.
We’ve seen this before. In Yemen, we’ve seen this before. In Afghanistan, we’ve seen this before, in Pakistan, in some of those countries, of course, outside of the context of an armed conflict situation, which therefore will apply different legal frameworks to restrict the use of force. But the main point here is that France believe that you can target these individuals. And this is what we’re trying to get out. So quite, we asked them, the French armed Ministry of armed forces, whether they could disclose any targeted killing policy that we can actually review and see in even if it’s behind closed doors. And, you know, we didn’t get any responses, unfortunately.
And, you know, based on my experience of investigating drones now, for over a decade, I’ve always look at what’s happening on the ground, first, speaking to the survivors and spitting in attaining these testimonies. And it’s something which has always provided a lot of information with regards to tactics with regards to any spies that, you know, people thought were, you know, planting some sort of signal intelligence, and the report also talks about how we believe there was a connection with a facility in Europe, which could have participated in this attack as well.
Yasser Louati 14:40
In 2015, the former president François Hollande, from the Socialist Party… (sarcastically) “the left” spoke to two journalists, excuse me, Gerard Davet andFabrice Lhomme, and they wrote a book about him speaking you know about random, you know, topics And he came to the subject of France’s military intervention abroad. And he admitted quite openly that he held a key list handed to him by the foreign intelligence, the dg as he or the Directorate for external intelligence. And the the list will be given to him and he would suddenly decide who gets killed and who gets, you know, how can how can I say, not killed.
Now, this, of course, you know, shocked the opinion that a president would take the matter into his own hands. And that extra judicial killing was actually a normal thing for our president, so much so that he would speak openly about it, without any sense of shame, or trying to at least sugarcoat the the information.
This kind of brings us, you know, towards what we just said that there are no explicit or clear policies in terms of targeting, and who gets to decide who know when to open fire. And which actually raises the question is France and I’m, I know, I’m speaking to an investigative and researcher from a law firm and you know, you will have to forgive my provocation. Would you point towards a rogue state behavior? Or do you think these are just accidents?
Khalil Dewan 16:25
Without a doubt, what I can say very confidently is that trance are and will be very shortly if not already, are running a targeted killing policy across the Sahel region. And, you know, there’s no denying that since they have attained membership of epi, which is the European enterprise network for targeted killings were a network of commanders come together where they can access, you know, lethal capability in a particular war zone, ie attain signal intelligence, and other countries can also participate with that to strike people with drones. They are they are accusing the whole drone program, and we don’t know how far that can go. So to answer your question, you know, yes, they do have a targeted killing policy, what that actually looks like investigators and human rights practitioners, and as well as NGOs, as well, they need to look at that in a much more finer detail and trying to find information.
Right now, I think the best and the only way is to ask questions to the French government, and hopefully you can get somewhere with them, or to conduct investigations on the ground. You know, for me, personally, I feel that this is the beginning of France is drone warfare, whilst ISIL operations are being conducted. You know, technically speaking, there isn’t anything unlawful about an ASR mission, particularly if you are engaged in a country? I’m you know, our mission is sure. So, you know, if, for instance, you are participating in an armed conflict with the consent of the state, there’s nothing wrong with an intelligence and surveillance mission, we’re using your drones. Whether that provides you with accurate information on the ground.
That, however, is a separate question. Having spoken to several former drone pilots myself, for years, I had some conversations around from his use of drones and the Bounty track in particular, for a number of days, you know, some days, we were just discussing a particular procedure, for example, the use of drone sensors. And you know, one of the things they told me very quickly is there is no way that they provided accurate Intel, you know, this was the experience on the US side, so the front side is highly similar, and how they actually can confidently claim that they targeted a group of armed fighters, and they were saying the whole gathering was an armed and was an armed group, how they actually cross reference that on the ground is something which is absurd, because it’s hard, it’s highly impossible to know that.
Even if you have intel on the ground, this is what the former US, drone operators have told me, I’m technicians. So that really speaks volumes about the tactics that France are using. And also, you know, I put these questions to the French government as well, you know, how they are effectively, you know, verifying the targets, and of course, they didn’t want to say anything to me. on that front.
Yasser Louati 19:37
As I said earlier, we have 20 years of documented crimes committed by drones. And actually, Barack if, you know, the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan is the legacy of George W. Bush. The drone war is the legacy of Barack Obama and many have called him out for everything that has happened in it. The countries that I mentioned earlier, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, I really recommend the episode of john oliver on the drones, where he got all these testimonies. And the situation with terror, provoked by his rules, has huge such levels that kids fear blue skies, because they know there are blue skies, drones, again, have a visual on the ground and then start bumping out of the blue. And many that have questioned the military.
The military said there were reasons to believe, and reasons to believe does not mean we have proof that these people are, you know, have been positively identified. Weddings have been targeted for years. And I’m going to give our audience, as you know, an idea of what these drones have provoked in terms of terror, but also of killing. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, at least, and I’m talking about us led missions, it is 14,000 strikes have been ordered, making a total of between 8800 to 17,000 victims, and the civilian range goes is between 910 to 2200, including somewhere around a 400 children. And of course, Justice will not be served, who’s going to try the people who operated these drones, the people who fire these enormous size, and the people who gave the order to fire those missiles to give a breakdown, again, to our audience, let’s take the case of the strikes in Yemen. 336 have been positively identified with a total killing between 1001 1400. `If we take if you cross the sea and go to Somalia, it’s slightly less 200 strikes, but the ratio is much, much higher for 200 strikes, we have between 1214 100 people killed. Again, no accountability over a veto the decisions and and and compare our artist justice for the victims. And I think Pakistan has been, you know, among the the biggest victims of Barack Obama has withdrawn war. The victims are range between 2500 to 4000. And not once the drone program in the US has been questioned, either by the US Congress, or at least by other countries or the UN. And this now, despite all these figures, France is following the same path. You contacted the limited the Ministry of armed forces in France, they gave you no clear answer over their policies. And they give you no explanation over how they operate these rules. Having said that, Holly, are there reasons to worry for the future? Or do you see at least some roadblocks facing France in terms of implementing or at least not extending these drone operations? After Emmanuel Macron said, we are going to scale back our main our human presence in the Sahara region.
If we take if you cross the sea and go to Somalia, it’s slightly less 200 strikes, but the ratio is much, much higher for 200 strikes, we have between 1214 100 people killed. Again, no accountability over a veto the decisions and and and compare our artist justice for the victims. And I think Pakistan has been, you know, among the the biggest victims of Barack Obama has withdrawn war. The victims are range between 2500 to 4000. And not once the drone program in the US has been questioned, either by the US Congress, or at least by other countries or the UN.
And this now, despite all these figures, France is following the same path. You contacted the limited the Ministry of armed forces in France, they gave you no clear answer over their policies. And they give you no explanation over how they operate these rules. Having said that, Holly, are there reasons to worry for the future? Or do you see at least some roadblocks facing France in terms of implementing or at least not extending these drone operations? After Emmanuel Macron said, we are going to scale back our main our human presence in the Sahara region.
Khalil Dewan 23:45
Yeah, sure. Just very quickly, you mentioned something about the skies and how people are being terrorized. When we went about investigating and documenting the testimonies for this report, we documented five testimonies, two of which have been publicized, or partially with consent. And the other three, we have concerned about us on file for potential legal proceedings. One of the things that people have been telling us is that, you know, we don’t use mobile phones. And I found that in I expected them to say that when I was trying to contact them, as well as people on the ground on our behalf as well. And the reason being is because they’re scared of signal intelligence, you know, they have the understanding that drones are above us. And we it also impacts their daily life as well.
So even when they travel certain kilometers, kilometers, they have to coordinate their whole life on the ground, which can be very tedious as well. And we’ve seen this experience in other countries such as Pakistan, or even even Yemen, where they’re terrified of doing daily you know, normal things but having a smartphone, they will decide not to have one because it will be tracked and if you look very closely, we found that a site or mobile phone was used in the strike or was actually part of the remnants of the strike. And that points towards one thing signal intelligence. And it’s very concerning you see, because they could be used, you know, the French drones could be picking up this intelligence on your SIM card, or even your mobile phone, to to strike those particular targets with those phones.
So they effectively may not even know who they’re targeting, but because that SIM card was there, and there was a group of people because, you know, the French Armed Forces did say that they were monitoring the quote unquote, behavior, and the pattern of behavior on the ground. So it all Mary’s to gather to basically point to the direction of a second to strike where the France or potentially or potentially have a policy where they are targeting people based on behavior on the ground where they don’t even know the ID of those people. And of course, with SIM cards in such places, they’re always being shared, or they’re always been mixed around. So that leads to uncertainty and you can target. With regards to your second question on do we see the use of drones increasing? Absolutely.
And this is primarily why still quite investigations will be continuing to monitor French drones. And the reason because when France and Macron, called for the drawdown in Mali in the Sahel in general, he said that he would decrease forces, and that’s highly likely to be the case. But in the same time, I think a week after his announcement last month, he also claimed that he will be increasing the drug the pre existing drones by adapting them with Hellfire missiles. And that only means one thing, drones in France is no longer and is our mission is no longer a spying mission. It’s now a fully attack Weapon System, which if it feels that you’re a target, it will it will execute you. And we are now at the beginning of France is drone warfare across the Sahel. And, you know, it’s something which which needs to be looked into further by all actors on the ground, including journalists, you know, to kind of pinpoint all of the atrocities that could go on learn from the past and see what Francis is really doing.
Yasser Louati 27:27
If we if we take a look at your report, again, in on the the status of the attack, you say war crime, highly likely. Now, do you see any signs that this alleged war crime, if I want to be kind of cautious is being prosecuted? Or do we just see all right, you know, people get killed, move on? And let’s forget about it. Have you seen any reactions from the UN without? Of course, not the municipal report was clear. And I’m going to call them the fact that a certain number of adult men come together in an area where an armed group is active, or the absence of women and children, although useful, for context is far from enough to determine who is a member of an armed group, or that there weren’t any civilians presence? We have that. But our thing is a matter of being taken, at least to some court, is this being taken to the UN? Or is France again in a situation of absolute impunity, which will open the door for more operations and more war crimes being committed in Western Sahara?
Khalil Dewan 28:40
Yeah, and that’s something we’re also monitoring is or how far this would go. And it’s something which is a very complicated incident, actually, because of the, you know, the disputed allegation by all sides, including Mali, because it implicates them as well, because they supported France’s position that it was, you know, the French targeted an armed group, which is not true at all.
What we have done so quiet Investigations Unit is that we have submitted further evidence, which is not public at all, to the UN Special Rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, as well as the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, to ensure that this is taken up effectively and not ignored. We have seen similar incidences in other places whereby killings of civilians have been just, you know, pushed under the rug and not taken further, whilst journalists have done an incredible job in covering and raising the incident.
But what we do have is that hot news, quote, unquote, gets forgotten and the real incidences that has infected people, which is remembered is is left there without any recourse to legal justice. You know, whether that’s socially and politically or whether that’s legally, usually they’re left behind. And they can and they continue to live that trauma on the ground wherever they are in these remote places in the Sahel, and you have the states, which are executing lethal power at will, which hasn’t got any scrutiny.
So one of the things we have done is complained to the UN Special Rapporteur, and they have kindly told us that they are taking it up based on their mandate. And also we’re continuing to attain more testimonies behind the scenes, but also speak with other experts who are within the industry of drone warfare, to investigate what’s going on in the Sahel further, and, if possible, and where possible, we will be able to file an illegal proceedings, which is currently underway,
Yasser Louati 30:54
the US presidency in that part of the world has already has also been a documented. Now France starts operating drones, basically 20 years after the US began around 2002 under George W. Bush, and it was, of course, accelerated under Barack Obama. I’m quite curious, was there according to your investigation, any cooperation between American intelligence agencies, CIA or others, and the French troops there? And more specifically, was as this operation being carried with us support, which would mean France commits a crime, and the US is also an accomplice?
Khalil Dewan 31:42
A very good question. And we have put these questions to us African command. I’ve been liaising with him for a number of years now and on a number of projects that I have done. And, you know, I did ask him this question. And However, they dismissed my question, and said they couldn’t comment, but I should put in an fMRI, which I found a little bit odd, because generally, they would give me information straight away based on my work. So I did put in an FYI, and I’m still waiting for that fly to come back to me, with the request TPA, exactly, with regards to the US side involvement with France’s operations, and ask them a whole lot of questions with regards to what’s your interpretation of France’s means and methods? their interpretation of law, what do you think about that? d?
Do the US or military and non military personnel provide any support to France’s Armed Forces, whether that’s an armed force or an intelligence force? So I’ve asked all the questions that I can in the fly, and I’m looking forward to the response on that. But what I can say, based on investigating drone warfare for over 10 years now and drone warfare being there for over two decades is that look, they are part of epi, which is the European enterprise system, and architecture system for these five countries, European countries, including the US and the UK, which come together, we share target metadata, intelligence for targets on the ground in countries like the Sahara, in countries like Somalia, including countries like Pakistan, Yemen, and Syria as well.
So to say whether they will and to ask the question, whether they are part of it or not, in terms of the American side, absolutely, they are a part of it, because they’re all sharing intelligence between each other. You know, we have the likes of the of the UK as well, who recently made an announcement publicly last week towards the end of last week that they have a new unit, which will be conducting operations in Africa. Once they, you know, the culture is different. And they’ve mentioned that they will be conducting operations, Special Operations and a special force as well has been dedicated for this. There isn’t much information with regards to what kind of force and what kind of objectives they have. However, there is no denying that the their proposal which came into the mainstream for government documents, as well as you know, reporting by friendly journalists, to the US, to the UK military was after macrons announcement of drawing down in the Sahel. So the US they do have a major interest in the sale, and that’s is and others which are very loosely connected to armed groups on the ground.
They’re really fighting a different war there. And based on my analysis and speaking to experts on the Sahel region, you know, the question of is there is a lot of right now as we speak, particularly in the last month since Afghanistan was coming to an end if you would like to say there’s been a lot of analysts as well as think tanks. Trying to make the Sahel region, particularly Mali, Afghanistan, 2.0. And the all adds up really, you know, the military industrial complex and the think tank world are coming together for a new phase for a new war. What you’re seeing right
Yasser Louati 35:17
now is that we already see the, how can I say, the preparation for a new narrative that we need more drones in the region? And these think tanks are basically preparing public opinion to justify another presidents in a different kind of presence in Western Africa through drones? Is that what you’re saying? Or did I miss something?
Khalil Dewan 35:45
Yeah, I mean, partly, it’s, it’s to do with Macron coming out, and I think that, you know, France are in a, in a major in a major turmoil economically, so they need to come out. But in the same time, it could have been a strategy to say, look, you know, Americans and the Europeans, you guys need to increase your carbon footprint, militarily on the ground because “I can’t continue this anymore within the Sahel region on my own”.
Yasser Louati 36:13
Excuse me for interrupting you. Not many countries have followed France in the Barkhane operation. France basically almost went alone there. And there was symbolic support for this operation. But not, what you’re now saying is that France is basically blackmailing the US saying, “well, we are not going to stay with our troops”-and I think it was around 5000 military personnel in the area- “Now we are going to scale back our presence, and we need you to back us in the region.”
But now this brings another question, Khali. Why, what are the interests that would make France, you know, send in more drones, and I will speak of the consequences on communities and the fact that they can’t even use their cell phones, what would you know, make France use more drones, and drag the US along in this part of the world where, we are not accustomed to seeing, you know, American military presence. We are more accustomed to seeing the US in the Middle East and Central Asia, and now with what, the rivalries with China, in Southeast Asia. But now we kind of “why what’s going on there that will require these two Western powers, to be present to the point of terrorizing communities with their drones?”
Khalil Dewan 37:30
Yeah, absolutely. And I think, you know, it’s a lot to do with economics, and also interest on the ground within and you know, West Africa, there is no doubt that there was a lot of resources there, which are being, you know, they have been taken into the hands of many states, whether you speak to you know, you know, oil and gas, or uranium lawyers or whether you speak to political analysts, they’re all saying the same thing. I recently even spoke to a military analyst, and he was talking about uranium to be one of the US interests.
But you know, the reality is, France does not want to do it alone, you know, the justification of is growing there, which is very loosely connected to the armed groups, the armed groups that are fighting their own conflict. Unfortunately, some of the analysts, they don’t really take that line, because, of course, no Think Tank wants to, you know, peddle a line that doesn’t go with the global policy.
But you know, at the end of the day, what really matters is the people and the human rights and the violation and the right to life. And what’s actually going on there. You know, my concern here, which still quite is targeted killings, what’s going on in the conflict, and we have seen other violations as well, that we are yet to come to, for example, torture on the ground, and other violent tactics used by several parties to the conflict in the Sahel, particularly in in in Mali.
Yasser Louati 38:55
Are you saying that France is involved in human rights violations in Africa? That would be a shocker. But now what you’re saying is, people are being tortured under the watch of French troops.
Khalil Dewan 39:09
I have to come back to that, when we have our publication and investigation by can see now that, you know, we are looking into several violations of different parties to the conflict. And, you know, we are concerned that there is no coverage of the Sahel region properly. And whilst there are journalists on the ground, you know, journalism doesn’t go far enough to investigate what’s happening. And we’re really set up to look at matters which are of public interest, and to see how far we can take them to ensure there’s accountability and also to encourage transparency with those individuals who are perpetrators of human rights violations.
Yasser Louati 39:56
But I didn’t have a clear answer is France involved in the torture of people or you still don’t want to speak publicly until the report is out.
Khalil Dewan 40:04
Yeah, I can’t speak publicly until, you know, we have completed our investigations, but it’s something that I’m looking into for sure.
Yasser Louati 40:12
Let’s go back to the effects of these rules on communities. We are going we are now at the end of our show on this episode. What are the effects on communities? When the use of mobile phone now can make you a target of drone strikes? Have you spoken to people on the ground? And what do they tell you about? Well, how do they organize their lives now that they know, you know, engines in the sky, you know, can you know, hit them and kill them?
Khalil Dewan 40:37
Yeah, absolutely. Look, the Bronte wedding attack. And I call it the wedding attack, because it was exactly that on purpose. And the report was named after this title is that the Bronte wedding attack is something which resonates with everyone on the ground. You know, whenever you talk about France’s intervention in Mali, they refer to the Bronte wedding attack. And the reason being is because this wedding brought together to different people and families and tribes from two different areas. And it was, was being planned for weeks, okay, and they came together in a location, which they finally decided on, right. And then this horrific attack took place, where it kind of shifted the mindset of everyone, you know, it was a very brutal attack, you know, there were three airstrikes that took place, and they use the Mirage just as well. So you can imagine the, you know, the horror that went through on a celebration effectively, of, you know, two different families coming together. And then Luckily, you know, nothing happened to the bride and groom, but there were some injuries as well.
But the injuries of what happens here, in the mind is more longer lasting. You know, one of the testimonies that we documented was that, you know, someone told me, you know, I’m injured twice, once on my body, and once in my heart because my relatives were killed. And these are the sorts of testimonies which I have seen elsewhere, with regards to airstrikes, civilian casualties. And when you fit this into a conflict, analysis of warfare, you have to ask yourself, has operation by the cane, succeeded? You know, what’s the objective of operation mankind? And, you know, what is minusma actually doing there? You know, they’ve made a few proposals recently about increasing the foothold, we see a lot of people talking about the need to increase military activity. But, you know, has the conversation really taken place on the ground with the civilians, the people who live there the tribes that were there before foreign intervention? I don’t think so.
And I think that, you know, when you when you speak to experts about Mali, in general, I think it’s been a major mess of a conflict and France have realized very clearly, that they’re engaged engagement is too expensive for them, effectively, we need others to come on the ground, because they also have interests are back at home in Paris, we’ve had we have to deal with a lot of that’s going on, you know, the economy is crumbling right now. Macron is being pushed on several different matters, you know, within Europe alone. And I think, at the end of the day, you know, whilst, you know, the question must be, has France failed operation mankind? And I think any analysts will say, yes, they have, you know, they have, they definitely haven’t won the hearts and minds of the people on the ground. And secondly, in a day, increasing warfare in a manner, which is cheaper, and less costly to them, which means it could increase for a number of years to come.
Yasser Louati 43:46
But I’m going to double down your question, Khalil, wouldn’t that actually fit the narrative that, you know, the French are there to kill us? And that would actually make the recruitment for terrorist groups or armed groups easier? Because you can,t ask, why do they hate us when you’re bombing civilians in their weddings?
Khalil Dewan 44:07
Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, we have to be clear that, you know, there are armed groups in the ground, there are armed groups who have ideologies and will look to exploit those narratives. And they are, and we’ve seen this as well on their networks, that they are exploiting this narrative, they are talking about incidences which have, which have occurred to, you know, drive up recruit.
And, you know, it’s a good point, because we’ve seen that any everywhere, you know, there is no conflict, where this sort of analysis does not take place on the ground practically whenever you bomb someone, effectively, family members are going to be asking, why did you target my family? And if there is an armed group, which is providing you a very good resources, food and things to do, they may join that. But yeah, it’s a very complicated situation. And I’m very sure that the French military knows In fact, but what would be interesting to know is how far they would take a risk like that. And what is their real objective?
Yasser Louati 45:09
Decision makers have the highest levels, they know many things, but act for a very few of them, forces along here, you know, history or you know, in Africa, and we’re Africans, and we see that one of the lessons of the past conflicts have been learned. And this actually what you were saying, if I may show that it’s a double defeat for France, it’s a military defeat, because Barkhane did not reach its military objectives.
But now he’s reinforcing the narrative of the groups that were supposed to be fought during the Barkhane operation. I know, a few more questions for you the end. And this one’s been on my mind. For your investigations, speaking with the French military, you know, gathering data, wherever you could, have you been able to identify the infrastructure of France’s drone warfare, from the manufacturing of drones, to training, and then all the way to, you know, operations on the ground?
Khalil Dewan 46:07
Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, we’ve been, you know, we have looked into the drones in particular that they using, and we have come across also, the, you know, the details of them as well, you know, majority of them are not actually armed, but they do have some, without going into too much detail that’s changing.
Now, you know, Macron, since his drawdown announcement, it seems that these drones will be attaching or having the capability with hellfire missile systems to strike them by themselves. And, you know, the in at the end of the day, the drones itself, what really is important is not the fiberglass if you like, which flies in the air, you know, it’s not important at all. Whether it’s an aircraft, you know, a conventional manned aircraft like a mirage 2000, or whether it’s an armed Reaper drone, you know, it doesn’t actually matter what the weapons system is. But what is really important to really understand is that there is a broad net of signal intelligence taking place today, after two decades of the War on Terrorism, and the use of drones.
There is a broad net of signal intelligence, us from Europe and around the world, where different armed commanders from different countries are having access to the same Intel. And you technically wouldn’t know who provided that information, who provided the targeted killing list, or the location of somebody on the ground, which complicates very much, where the responsibility lies for targeted killing or an assess assassination, or a botched operation, which killed civilians, as we have seen in devante. And, you know, I think this is the main message, which is Francis M is a newbie, if you like on drone warfare, it’s very new, there are other countries as well, who are entering drone warfare, and their weapon systems are highly advanced, more advanced in the US more advanced than the UK.
But when it comes to their targeted killing policy, or when it comes to the jurisprudence, or the or their jurisprudential understanding how they actually operate on the ground, how they target, then you’ll find is very weak. I mean, you know, it’s only a matter of time, for there to be an atrocity, like we have seen or a botched attack for then people to pick up on and investigate and then seek accountability by political or legal means.
Yasser Louati 48:43
You’re speaking and I forgot to ask you earlier if for if the French military refused to answer your questions, they stopped answering your emails. Are there any signs that France is leading an investigation,at least to find out what happened and at least to learn the lessons from this botched attack?
Khalil Dewan 49:02
They haven’t responded to me whether they are or not undergoing an investigation. However, I have spoken to people on the ground part of the attack the victims, and they’ve told me that France or Bali haven’t come towards us hasn’t haven’t met us to see what’s actually going on. And that kind of is very telling. With regards to France’s position on the strike, you know, they’re, they’re happy for it just to stay the way it is, and not really investigate any further and, and perhaps maybe after this report, and the work on the demand is the two special wrapper tools I mentioned. They may actually investigate further and that’s the key really.
Yasser Louati 49:45
So we have a scaling back of French military presence of the human presence in the region. We have a signal intelligence networks or single network that is shared by various stakeholders. We see that the reason There was, THERE IS an American implication or presence or support to this attack on a wedding in the town of Bounti in Mali, there is a silence from the French armed forces and no signs that an investigation is conducted, the UN has accused France of killing 19 civilians. Having written your report, what are your final recommendations, both to the French government and all drone operators around the world, especially military drones?
Khalil Dewan 50:33
Yeah, yeah, I think the main thing is that we’re equivalent, we’ve requested the French military to come clean with regards to the targeted killing policy, where we would like to see how do they decide on how do they interpret the law of war. We’ve already seen that countries who have drones for armed drones are interpreting the way they can use these drones in very different ways.
You know, the interpretation of who can be targeted when the Americans, for example, believe they can target and in military age male, you know, they believe a military age male is fair game. You know, and the UK have their positions as well, which are a little bit more stricter. But firms, we haven’t seen what their position is. So one of them is to, to release it to a totally kidding policy. there for sure is one, there’s definitely something with that governs their drones. And second of all, to answer any questions of investigative journalist or law firms like myself, you’re doing work on the legal side to better understand how fans are going about their day program. And and also to, to realize that they need to have some ethics as well. Whilst we understand that, you know, there is a conflict going on for several reasons. Whilst we understand that intelligence gathering and sharing is something which will occur, you know, you can’t do any investigation. That’s the end of Intel gathering, of course, you know, we have to be pragmatic.
But to bear in mind that there is morality, you know, there is ethics, there’s law and order and to ensure that the the interpretations are not going beyond the bounds to justify killing people, even within that framework of law and justice. So effectively law fair not to turn the tables as in when they please to ensure that they achieve their military objectives.
Yasser Louati 52:30
Khalil Dewan, Thank you very much for the time you spent with us.
Khalil Dewan 52:34
Thank you very much for having me on was a great pleasure.
Yasser Louati 52:36
It was a pleasure to cover this topic. Unfortunately, I think we are bound to cover it more. I don’t think this topic is going to disappear from our raders, or at least not when it comes to us at the CJL. I really thank you for this report. And I know another one is coming in term on, you know, the alleged acts of torture, carry the other, you know, the watch of French military personnel or not.
As for for this podcast episode, we are coming to an end, I would like to thank our audience and to thank Khalilfor his presence and to all the information we’ve been able to together or to get from him. Of course, this means nothing if our audience does not seize information to do something on the ground or to press policymakers to organize and demand that the people who are elected to speak on our behalf and represent us do something against these crimes. The population in Mali, I don’t think they are properly represented with the current government, or the Coups taking place over there, there is a Malian diaspora here and my heartfelt support goes to them and I worry now for the other countries Mauritania, the, the southern part of Algeria, the Western Sahara, Niger, Senegal, and others and Guinea, for example.
We do have a personal responsibility I would even say that there is a part of responsibility that is uncompressible if you do not take your share. Nobody will do it for you. If you think that this podcast been useful or helpful that you got something from it please remember to support us on CJL.ONG that’s Charlie Juliet Lima dot Oscar November Golf, just click on donation and whatever amount you give will help us you know run an extra mile on these topics, to hire, freelancer to produce more reports and especially to make this podcast a more sustainable one. Thanks again for watching and listening. This was Yasser Louati speaking to you on the Paris South Side Balieue, talk to you soon.