Mali is quick to become the next Afghanistan. Despite the United State’s best efforts both politically and militarily; the country is slowly succumbing to the control of Islamic jihadis in the North. An umbrella term that includes many militant organizations including the Mali-based al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb.
But over the course of the last few months there has been a massive military rush by numerous nearby nations to stem the tide. A dozen nations have heed the call for help and are being strategically prepared for a massive counter-terrorism assault on the terrorist-controlled Northern Mali (hopefully).
Since 2007 the U.S. has had a steady presence of military (specifically Army Special Forces) as well our intelligence operatives on the ground in Mali and nearby nations as part of Operation Enduring Freedom – Trans Sahara. In Mali specifically – U.S. SOF personnel found themselves in a political predicament when rogue Malian military personnel took control of the government in March of this year in response to the civilian government’s failure to handle the major uprising in the North. When a civilian government is overthrown by its own military in a coup d’Etat, generally the U.S. State Department won’t recognize the new government and partnerships are normally temporary suspended. Considering the U.S. SOF personnel are there by official invite by the Mali government and not operating clandestinely; they had no choice but to pull out of the country (“via official Pentagon sources”) until diplomatic matters are resolved. In April, 3 U.S. special operations service members were killed in Mali when their vehicle plunged off a bridge – one month after the coup and after military relations ceased between both nations. Their presence and mission there is still a mystery.
Current major events in Mali:
– early October 2012: Mauritania, Niger, Togo, and Nigeria have pledged upwards to 3,000 men in addition to Mali’s own 5,000 assembled soldiers. It is believed that the Islamists have accumulated a force of 3,000 and their numbers are sweltering.
– October 2012: Algeria pledges 25,000 troops to be positioned on the border with Mali and Niger for a possible push against enemy forces.
– November 2012: A delegation from the NMLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad), a Malian secular nationalist movement which lost Northern Mali to the Islamists earlier this year during the Battle of Gao recently traveled to Paris to coordinate with the French President and Defense Minister on how to best contribute to military efforts against the Islamists. The NMLA is no friend of the Mali government nor is it a friend of the Islamists. But as the saying goes: “the enemy of my enemy is my friend“.
I personally believe this will be the next major battleground for U.S. special operations unless the tide is quickly turned. The nation in its current state is a pot of boiling water ready to overflow – and in the next 2-3 months will either see a massive and hopefully successful military operation in the North or the thousands of coalition forces will simply become a protection force for the rest of the country that is not in Islamist hands. Thousands of heavily armed “combat troops” (not peacekeeping) are on the cuspid of invading the North. So keep Mali on your radar and we will see how the next couple of months transpire! The President has to make an executive decision within weeks of this writing: to send a fleet armed UAVs, a larger presence of more direct action-focused SOF personnel, and an increase in intelligence capabilities. We can’t afford to lose Northwest Africa to the same Islamists we are actively engaging in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa.
Main photo: ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/GettyImages