After the fall of Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, the group began to accumulate huge amounts of weapons from the North African country, which remains unstable. This windfall was followed up by the strategic partnership with Ansar al Dine which allowed the two groups to sweep out government forces from northern Mali, before turning on a Tuareg independence movement, an erstwhile ally, gaining control an area of the Sahara the size of Texas. The mix of Al Qaeda in the Mahgreb, Ansar al Dine and the Tuareg rebels is combustible. After the looting of the Gaddafi arms depot in Libya, they are all very well-armed; indeed, Al Qaeda in the Maghreb is likely the best armed Al Qaeda franchise operating in the world today.

It is also the fastest growing al Qaeda franchise in the world today. And most of Mali’s neighbors are horrified at what is taking place in the north. The Moroccan Foreign Minister told me recently that the jihadists present the greatest threat to regional stability in more than a decade. As previous experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere have taught us, once Al Qaeda establishes a presence in a failing state, it becomes very difficult to dislodge…

Going forward, American drones and other surveillance assets should assist the French who also, urgently, need more smart bombs and munitions. Because it is clear, Al Qaeda will strike back. It can kill hostages and kidnap more. A more horrifying scenario to contemplate is a mass casualty attack in France itself. The campaign launched from Paris last week is not without risk. And French intelligence services are closely monitoring the more than five million Algerian émigrés in the country. Al Qaeda’s emir, Ayman al-Zawahiri has been calling for a 9/11 style attack in Paris for years now.