Is Mali next?
Certainly starting to look that way anyway. When I was in Senegal this past fall, there was a lot of talk from the locals about whether this would happen, and what the US response would be. To be honest, I still don't know what the US response will be.
The Obama administration is considering significant military backing for France’s driveagainst al-Qaeda-linked militants in Mali, but its support for a major ally could test U.S. legal boundaries and stretch counterterrorism resources in a murky new conflict.
The United States is already providing surveillance and other intelligence help to France and may soon offer military support such as transport or refueling planes, according to U.S. officials, who stressed that any assistance would stop short of sending American combat forces to the volatile West African nation.
At the same time, the administration is navigating a thicket of questions about military support and how far it could go in aiding the French without violating U.S. law or undermining policy objectives.
Direct military aid to Mali is forbidden under U.S. law because the weak rump government there seized power in a coup. U.S. moves are further complicated by uncertainty about which militants would be targeted in an assault.
The loosely affiliated web of Malianmilitants in the country’s north includes members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). But other fighters are longtime foes of the Malian government and pose no direct threat to U.S. interests.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday that the U.S. has ruled out putting any American troops on the ground in Mali, but officials are hoping the French will be able to succeed in establishing better security for the West African nation.
Panetta spoke at a press conference in Lisbon with Portuguese Defense Minister Jose Aguiar Branco.
The U.S. is providing intelligence-gathering assistance to the French in their assault on Islamist extremists in Mali, and officials would not rule out having American aircraft land in the West African nation as part of future efforts to lend airlift and logistical support.
On Tuesday, Panetta said the U.S. is still working through the details of assistance it will provide France.
That really doesn't seem all that clear to me. I guess we will support them, but from afar? Like Libya? That didn't seem to work out so well, but who knows.