23. Paper Prepared by the National Security Council Staff1
SOVIET ACTIVITY IN MALI
The Soviets are engaged in airport modernization in Mali. They have already lengthened the strip at Mopti to 3000 meters and are doing the same at Bamako. Another airstrip is also being worked on.
This program is logical enough from the Malian point of view; they have received a few MIGs from the Soviets and the lengthened runways will accommodate these. The related early warning radars and navigation aids are also logical.
More disturbing from our point of view is the capability of these strips to handle large Soviet transports of the type (AN–22) that would be used to support possible military operations in Southern Africa. The Soviets made some limited use of Mali’s fields during the Angolan operation; the improved fields would be much more attractive to the Soviets and they would probably feel that they had good grounds for demanding their use, either as an alternative to Conakry or in addition to it. (The route from Algeria to Central Africa is much shorter via Mopti than via Conakry—see map.)2
We do not know of any agreement providing for Soviet use of these fields but should find out if any exists. We probably do not have much legal ground for arguing against Soviet use but we might consider exploring ways of averting a problem before it arises:
—Our own influence in Mali is limited. Before anything else is done, however, State and Embassy Bamako should explore the possible usefulness of a direct approach. Ambassador Byrne is anxious to have subjects to raise with her host government; she could be briefed on our view of the Soviet role in Africa or some similar topic and lead the conversation to our concern over Soviet military involvement in the continent.3
—The French have residual influence in Mali; they could be asked to convey their concern that Mali not become a staging area for Soviet activities in Central and Southern Africa.[Page 67]
—Most useful might be approaches by other Africans (Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana, Zaire) along the same lines. We could inspire these.
Whoever makes the approaches they would obviously have to be cast in general terms—e.g., on the undesirability of great power military involvement in Africa. Mali is not guilty of anything and perhaps has no intention of obliging the Soviets in this regard. Still, it might be useful to remind them gently.