On 3rd January 2021, French planes bombed a gathering near Bounty, a remote village in the middle of Mali.  Soon afterwards, local people claimed that a wedding party had been attacked with many civilian deaths.  The French tried to claim that they had ‘neutralised’ some ‘terrorists’.  After extensive research, the UN reported at the end of March that the local people had been correct all along and the French bombing had killed at least 22, mainly local people.

The UN deployed a research team of nearly 20 experts. They interviewed 115 people and another 200 people took part in their focus groups.  They also referred to at least 150 publications including public and UN documents.  The UN research team do not appear to have received any co-operation from the French forces in Mali.  Apart from this, they appear to have undertaken a major independent study of this incident.

The UN’s conclusion is that a group of around a 100 men at a wedding party were attacked from the air and 22 people were killed, including three armed men assumed to belong to the Katiba Serma group.  This is an armed Islamic group operating in the region.

The French say that they had been monitoring the gathering for one and a half hours before their bombing.  They claim it was a meeting of armed rebels who were all adult men.  This is because the women and children were in a separate group preparing food for the celebration.  Not an unusual situation in Muslim communities.

The UN research did not find any remains of motor bikes or other vehicles, weapons or ammunition.  They did “establish the presence… of five (5) armed individuals, at least one of whom carried his weapon in a visible manner. They had arrived in the village aboard

three (3) motorcycles in the morning of January 3 from another location.”  The UN research team “concluded that the gathering was a celebration of marriage which brought together a hundred people, mostly civilians living in Bounty” (page 14 of the report translated from the original French).

The week before the UN report was published the French were again accused of killing Malian civilians as a result of an air attack.  These five or six teenage men were a small hunting party and only one of them had a gun.  “I know all these young people. Some are from my family,” Mohamed Assaleh Ahmad, mayor of the nearby village of Talataye [in another region of Mali], told Reuters by telephone. “We have seen these airstrikes in the past here. We have never said anything, but this time, it is 100% an error.” 

These incidents should have clear lessons for socialists.  Bombing should have no part to play in dealing with insecurity which is based on complex socio-economic conditions involving different ethnic groups and religions.  As in Nigeria, the situation in Mali involves separatists as well as several Islamic groups.  The presence of around 5,000 nominally Christian French forces have not really helped the situation. They have been in Mali since early 2013.

So the reaction of progressive people in Mali should be easy – they should demand that the French imperialists leave their country and stop bombing their people.  But what about bombing by the Nigerian Air Force?  If the French with access to all the latest technology cannot identify ‘terrorists’ from the air, are the Nigerian Air Force likely to be any more successful?

The Nigerian Air Force has been used on regular bombing missions in Borno State, especially over the last year or two.  A typical report on such incidents was headlined:  “Air Task Force destroys hideout, neutralises several terrorists at Sambisa Forest, Borno State.”  In March of this year, the Air Force ‘lost’ a fighter aircraft on mission over Borno State.  But the Air Force has also been used in several other states, especially in the last year.

In September 2020, Nigerian Air Force bombarded camps allegedly used by bandits in Zamfara State. In November, Defence Headquarters said that “the Air Component of Operation Thunder Strike has disrupted activities of cattle rustlers in Kwiambana Forest area in Kaduna State, killing several bandits.”   In February of this year, the Kaduna State Government reported that “an air strike of Nigerian Air Force neutralised bandits in Birnin Gwari and Giwa Local Government Areas of Kaduna.” Finally in early April 2021, military jets were used are part of an attack on local communities in Akwa Ibom and Benue states have security personnel had been killed in each state.

Later last year the Air Force took delivery of 12 Chinese drones (unmanned aircraft) that can be used on bombing missions.  The drones are based in Zamfara’s capital, Gusau. The aircraft’s area of operation will cover several states including Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi, Katsina, and some parts of Kaduna state according to the Air Force.

Most progressive people will except that the use of attack aircraft and bombing raids by the Nigerian Airforce within Nigeria is not really acceptable.  But what about the army? Unfortunately over the last few years, at least, the Nigerian Army has been repeatedly responsible for killing civilians, let’s remember some of the most horrific of these events.

The Zaria massacre was carried out by the Nigeria Army, on Saturday, 12 December 2015.  Nearly 350 civilians were killed after supporters of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria blocked the road that the head of the Army wanted to use.  Many more Shiites have been killed since including on the streets of Abuja.  On Monday, 29th October, 2018 the security forces massacred at least 39 peaceful people marching along the road by the army road block on the road from Nyanya to Abuja. 

60 people were shot and killed in south-eastern Onitsha city, in the two days surrounding Biafra Remembrance Day in May 2016. Another 90 killings were identified by Amnesty International in the year to August 2016 of pro-Biafra protesters in the south east of the country.

The security forces shot and killed at least a dozen people at Lekki Toll Gates and perhaps another 90 people associated with the #EndSARS protests in Lagos in October last year, and a further 50 in Benin City.  In February 2021, helicopter support was used with the army against the Eastern Security Network in Imo State, terrorising many local people in the process.

Nigeria Airforce mistakenly bombs displaced people

The role of the armed forces is claimed to be to protect the people, but in fact it has always been to pacify the people, first for the colonialists and now for the domestic ruling class.  If the Government is reduced to bombing its own country it has really lost control and the risk of further civilian deaths is too great.  The lesson of the French bombing and killing of nearly 20 unarmed citizens at a wedding party in Mali is that the Nigerian Airforce should not be used on bombing missions in Nigeria. Similarly, the army should not be used or carry live ammunition in the streets of our cities.

The UN report, only available in French, it can be downloaded from:  https://www.bruxelles2.eu/wp-content/uploads/frappebounti-rap@minusma210330.pdf


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