Video: US Air Force airlifting French military into northern Mali

posted at 3:51 pm on January 23, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

Most of the attention today will focus on Hillary Clinton’s testimony on the terrorist attack on our consulate in Benghazi, and it should — but some of it should also focus on the impact of Barack Obama’s war on Libya has had in a broader sense. CBS News profiles the large-scale logistical role that the US is now playing in the French intervention in neighboring Mali, where weapons and fighters from the “liberating” forces in Libya are now being used to fuel an Islamist insurgency that nearly took over the country. The US and France want African nations to take over the fight, but that seems rather unlikely to happen:

Why unlikely? For one, the UN is balking at it, expressing concern over their own staff in Mali, although the Security Council has already approved combat operations for an all-Africa force:

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon warned the U.N. Security Council against requiring the world body to provide logistical support for combat military operations in Mali, saying such a move would put U.N. civilian staff throughout the region at “grave risk.”

In December, the 15-member Security Council authorized the deployment of an African-led military force to help defeat al Qaeda and other Islamist militants in northern Mali and called on the secretary-general to submit funding options.

“The situation in Mali is critical. Terrorist organizations threaten the way of life of the Malian people, and even the existence of the state,” Ban told the Security Council in a letter on Sunday to the council, obtained by Reuterson Tuesday. …

“If the United Nations were to provide logistics support to military forces engaged in an offensive operation, it would place civilian United Nations personnel at grave risk, and undermine their ability to carry out their current tasks in the region,” Ban wrote.

The perceived neutrality of U.N. staff across the Sahel region – a belt of drought-stricken land spanning nearly a dozen impoverished countries on the southern rim of the Sahara – would be undermined if the world body supported the Mali offensive.

At the moment, the UN forces number less than 900 troops.  That number may expand to 3300, as the Security Council originally envisaged AFISMA in December, but they won’t be ready until, oh … September.  That leaves France and the US holding the bag for quite a while, meaning that the few weeks suggested by this CBS News report sounds downright Pollyannaish.

It prompts once again the question of Chuck Hagel’s nomination, too.  As Senator, Hagel ended up opposing these kinds of interventions, and with his apparent mandate to cut spending at the Pentagon, these kinds of support missions may not even be possible for very much longer.  Will the Senate Armed Services Committee ask Hagel how he plans to square that particular circle?

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