ON NOVEMBER 20, two heavily armed Islamic militants stormed a luxury hotel in Mali’s capital, Bamako, killing 22 people, including one American. As initial reports of the carnage emerged, so too did word that elite U.S. troops were also involved in the rescue operation.
About two years prior, another team of Americans — State Department and Africom personnel — traveled to Mali on a low-profile mission, interviewing local experts and government officials about the country’s antiterrorism capabilities. The internal report, marked “sensitive” and not intended for audiences outside the U.S. and Malian governments, offered a bleak assessment of the West African nation’s counterterrorism capabilities as well as a prophetic caution.
The December 2013 State Department Antiterrorism Assistance report, obtained by The Intercept via the Freedom of Information Act, characterized the north of the country as imperiled by a number of terror groups that “remain able to evade French pursuit.” The south was portrayed as far more secure, though the report notes that “a small number of experts” told the authors to “anticipate a terrorist attack in Bamako at some point.”
The State Department report takes on new relevance in the wake of last month’s attack on the Radisson Blu hotel. Despite decades of U.S. partnership, the government in Mali, according to the report, “lacks a national security strategy” and “has no national level incident management system,” while the “security forces investigative capabilities are deficient in many areas,” and their “abilities to manage crime scenes effectively and identify and collect evidentiary material at the scene of a terrorist incident are limited.”