Ten months after condemning a military coup in Mali, the Obama administration may end up having to ride to its rescue. Islamists in the West African nation have begun a new offensive after France sent its military to fight the insurgency, and have now sworn to open a new front in the war in France itself:
Islamist forces on Monday launched a fresh attack in Mali’s government-held south and vowed to strike “at the heart” of France to avenge a fierce military offensive against them.
Security sources reported the jihadists had attacked Diabali, some 400 kilometres (250 miles) north of the capital Bamako, on the fourth day of the French campaign, which has led to heavy losses in the extremists’ ranks.
“The Islamists attacked the town of Diabali today (Monday). They came from the Mauritanian border where they were bombed by the French army,” said a Malian security source on condition of anonymity.
Diabili fell to the Islamists earlier this morning despite the French intervention:
Despite intensive aerial bombardments by French warplanes, Islamist insurgents grabbed more territory in Mali on Monday and got much closer to the capital, French and Malian authorities said.
In the latest setback for the government of Mali, the al-Qaida-linked extremists overran the garrison village of Diabaly in central Mali, France’s defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in Paris Monday. The rebels “took Diabaly after fierce fighting and resistance from the Malian army that couldn’t hold them back.”
The Malian military is in disarray and has let many towns fall with barely a shot fired since the insurgency began almost a year ago in the northwest African nation.
France, however, continues to fight to push the Islamist rebels back:
France on Sunday hit northern strongholds of Islamist rebels in Mali, intensifying its military push into the West African nation as neighboring countries rushed to deploy troops to fight groups allied with al Qaeda.
Fighter jets from France, which engaged its troops on Friday in response to an urgent appeal from Mali President Dioncounda Traoré, attacked targets deep in northern territories controlled by Islamist groups, notably the large city of Gao near the front. The French also targeted sites along the border with Mauritania, as well as Kidal, a remote trading post near Algeria, as it widened a military campaign in the Texas-size desert region.
“French fighter jets aimed at and destroyed several targets this Sunday, some training camps, infrastructure and logistical bases,” French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.
France has requested aid from the US on intelligence and logistics. The Obama administration may approve that aid very soon, according to the Wall Street Journal, although stopping short of actual combat operations:
The Obama administration moved Sunday toward approving a limited show of support for France’s military campaign in Mali, readying surveillance drones and other air-intelligence assets for possible deployment within days, U.S. and European officials said.
The U.S. isn’t considering sending ground troops to Mali, and the officials said any American aircraft involved in the French campaign wouldn’t conduct airstrikes. …
The limited American response to France’s request for military support reflects White House concerns about being drawn into a new conflict when it is focused on extricating itself from the 11-year-old war in Afghanistan. The White House also has balked at intervening militarily in Syria.
Any deployment in support of France’s campaign in Mali would be the first U.S. involvement in a new military campaign since Libya in 2011.
It’s interesting that the WSJ should mention the Libyan intervention. Ten months ago, Daniel Larison pointed out that the Islamist insurgency in Mali resulted in large part from the NATO intervention in Libya:
But the Libyan war’s worst impact may have occurred outside of Libya. The neighboring country of Mali, which also happens to support U.S. counter-terrorist efforts in western Africa, has been roiled by a new Tuareg insurgency fueled by the influx of men and weapons after Gadhafi’s defeat, providing the Tuareg rebels with much more sophisticated weaponry than they had before. This new upheaval benefits al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), and the Tuareg uprising threatens the territorial integrity of Mali. The rebellion has also displaced nearly 200,000 civilians in a region that is already at risk of famine, and refugees from Mali are beginning to strain local resources in Niger, where most of them have fled. “Success” in Libya is creating a political and humanitarian disaster in Mali and Niger.
And Larison put “success” in scare quotes eight months before the attack on our consulate in Benghazi made it clear just how “successful” Obama’s war on Moammar Qaddafi actually was. Now we’re going to have to intervene on behalf of a military junta to fix what we broke by turning Libya into a failed state with terrorist networks in effective charge of the eastern section of the country, and energizing the Islamists inside and outside of Libya.
Exit question: What exactly does Chuck Hagel think of this latest intervention?