War brewing on the latest front line against terrorism in Mali

Source: Washington Post

The next war against terrorism is taking shape in this West African country, as African nations backed by the United States and France are readying a force to recapture Mali’s north from extremists linked to al-Qaeda and prevent another haven for jihadists from taking root on the continent.

But whether a military intervention can defuse such a complex crisis remains in doubt. Mali’s transitional government, installed after a military coup earlier this year, is weak and lacks legitimacy. Its poorly equipped army is in disarray.

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This landlocked former French colony, much of it in the Sahara Desert, is one of the world’s poorest countries despite an abundance of natural resources, including gold and uranium.

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The military intervention in Somalia is widely seen as a template for Mali. In Somalia, the al-Qaeda-linked group al-Shabab had seized much of Somalia and imposed harsh decrees in the name of Islam. But by this year, Somalia’s neighbors backed by the United States and the U.N. had pushed the militants out of their major strongholds.

For the mission in Mali, the French are expected to help train the African troops and provide them with aircraft, communications and intelligence aid, according to reports circulating in Paris.

The United States is expected to supply intelligence-gathering equipment, help transport the African troops and provide other logistical help.

But in closed-door Security Council consultations Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan E. Rice urged the council to support early elections in Mali, noting that U.S. law restricts the United States from providing direct military assistance to Mali because its democratically elected president was ousted in a coup in March. Rice also voiced skepticism about the military capacity of West African forces to prevail in battle with the northern militants.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed similar concerns.

“A military operation may be required as a last resort to deal with the most hard-line extremist and criminal elements in the north,” Ban wrote in a report to the Security Council. “But, before that stage is reached, the focus must be on initiating a broad-based and inclusive political dialogue aimed at forging national consensus . . . and addressing the long-standing grievances” of the communities in the north.

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