25. Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Tarnoff) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Soviet Activity in Mali

Your memorandum of June 6, 1977, raised several questions concerning the Soviet airfield improvement program in Mali.2 When the program is completed, a number of these strips will be able to accommodate large Soviet transports such as the AN–22. Whether a formal agreement exists for Soviet use of these fields is of minor significance, as Mali is solidly committed to support “wars of liberation” against white-controlled regimes in southern Africa. Were the Soviets to request permission to use these fields to support possible military operations in southern Africa, it immediately would be granted by the Malians.

Because of Mali’s landlocked position, the improved airfields do not offer the same advantages as enjoyed by the Soviets in Guinea or Somalia. For example, if they wished to stage TU–95 reconnaissance flights from Mali, the Soviets would need to obtain overflight clearances from the neighboring African countries. Additionally, it would be much more expensive to fuel and support aircraft in Mali, than at airfields like Conakry and Cotonou along the coast.

The airfield improvement program is of direct benefit to Mali and has non-military significance as well. It will strengthen considerably Mali’s internal air transport capability and will make possible direct flights from the country’s major agricultural areas to Europe by civilian freighters. The Malians eventually hope to export by air, major quantities of fruits, vegetables, and chilled meat to the European market.

The strength of Mali’s commitment to the liberation of southern Africa is such that neither a direct approach by the U.S., nor influence through the French or Mali’s African neighbors would cause her to deny the Soviets use of the improved airfields in the support of operations in southern Africa. Indeed, Soviet flights in support of the liberation of southern Africa probably would be welcome in certain other West [Page 69] African states (e.g., Chad). We shall, however, raise the matter with the Embassy in Bamako and request its advice regarding possible ways to bring our concern to the Malian Government’s attention.3

Peter Tarnoff 4
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 48, Mali 1/77–1/81. Secret.
  2. Not found. An undated and unsigned memorandum to the Secretary of State, attached to Richardson and Thornton’s June 3 covering memorandum to Brzezinski (see footnote 1, Document 23) raises these questions.
  3. See Document 27.
  4. Wisner signed for Tarnoff above Tarnoff’s typed signature.