At the Wall Street Journal, "MIA in Mali":
French troops have launched a ground offensive to stop Islamists from overrunning the North African state of Mali, and Britain, Canada and other African nations have lent a hand. Notably missing? France's oldest ally, the U.S.A.Continue reading.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Monday that "what we have promised them is that we would work with them, to cooperate with them, to provide whatever assistance we can to try and help" French forces. "We have made a commitment that al Qaeda is not going to find any place to hide," he added. Then the White House stepped in and blocked any immediate U.S. help, according to a report in Wednesday's Journal.
The French have a right to be angry. France doesn't want U.S. ground troops, but it does need planes to deploy soldiers and refuel strike aircraft, as well as intelligence from U.S. drones and satellites.
Administration officials are offering various lousy not-for-attribution excuses. U.S. law bars direct assistance to a government formed by a military coup, as in Mali, but that shouldn't preclude helping a fellow NATO member. Others say the U.S. shouldn't get involved because these Islamists aren't targeting the U.S., but that's also what everyone said in the 1990s about Afghanistan.
An Islamist takeover in Mali would threaten more than Africa. Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) and another regional Islamist force, Ansar Dine, took control of northern Mali after the military coup in March. Pentagon officials say AQIM works closely—on recruiting and tactics—with the Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Somalia's al Shabaab. The U.S. says all three are terrorist organizations. In late September, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton blamed the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi on "violent extremists" possibly linked to AQIM. On Wednesday, another group took dozens of Westerners, including Americans, hostage at a gas facility in Algeria.
Some who oppose U.S. help for the French say Mali is only in trouble because the West intervened in Libya. But the U.S. has been trying to stem the Islamist rise in northern Africa for several years by training and arming local militaries. This support backfired in Mali when U.S.-trained officers led the coup. The mistake wasn't the NATO-led intervention against Moammar Gadhafi, but the West's later near-total disengagement, which created a vacuum that terrorists filled.
Despite White House spin that al Qaeda is defeated, the reality is that it is an evolving threat that reconstitutes itself when and where it can. As al Qaeda was pushed out of South Asia and Iraq, it found new havens in Yemen and most recently in northern Africa.
I hit on this a bit in my previous entry, "War in Mali: France Boldly Goes Where the U.S. Fears to Tread."