As the Obama Administration increases its assistance for the French operation in Mali, it’s clear that Washington understands it has a role to play, even if it does not want to lead.
In many ways, the instability across North Africa and the Sahel is owed to the Arab Spring and the Obama Administration’s (among others’) failure to contain the emerging security threats. With fledgling governments unable to establish law and order, nefarious actors, including al-Qaeda affiliates, have exploited the power vacuum.
Mali, in particular, is an indirect consequence of the demise of Libya’s Muammar Qadhafi regime. Tuaregs returning to Mali from Libya contributed to the military coup last March. Some, however, including Morehouse College’s Laura Seay, argue that Mali’s predicament is owed “to domestic political crisis.”
Indeed, Mali was far from the “democratic model” that many in the media have claimed. Corruption and marginalization by former President Amadou Toumani Touré was rampant. Would the coup have taken place without the return of the Tuaregs? Maybe. But the deteriorating regional conditions exacerbated Mali’s already fragile situation.
Since France intervened, the Obama Administration has made it clear that it has no intention of putting boots on the ground. Rather, the U.S. is offering significant assistance to France and those countries participating in the mission.
According to George Little, the Pentagon’s Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, the U.S. has shared intelligence and provided logistical and airlift support to the French army, and the U.S. Air Force has flown well over a dozen C-17 sorties transporting personnel, supplies, and equipment to Bamako. And, as of last weekend, the U.S. began refueling support to French air operations.
Washington is also providing airlift to countries in the region, including Chad and Togo. And yesterday, the U.S. signed a Status of Forces Agreement with Mali’s neighbor, Niger. The agreement, which establishes the framework for a potential military presence in the region, has been in the works for about a year. However, such timeliness suggests that the U.S. could deploy assets to the region sooner rather than later.
The Obama Administration has a larger responsibility to support this operation than it might let on. The September 11 terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi left four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, dead. Then, the terrorist attack earlier this month on a gas facility in western Algeria left three Americans dead. Clearly, the U.S. has security interests in the region and must accept a role in containing this growing threat.