In the highly partisan environment of Capitol Hill, there’s nothing like a little counterterrorism operation to bring Republicans and Democrats together. On Monday, a number of top GOP lawmakers expressed their support for the White House’s decision to provide support for French forces battling al Qaeda fighters in Africa.
President Obama’s decision to grant intelligence and military logistics support to French forces fighting in northern Mali has generated rave reviews from several top Republicans. House Armed Services Committee member Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said the U.S. should take whatever action necessary to “beat this threat back” in West Africa.
So far, the Pentagon has agreed to provide intelligence and military logistical support to Paris, in an attempt to sweep out members of al Qaeda’s West African cell, known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb, from northern Mali.
However, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), head of the House Intelligence Committee, expressed concern as to whether the United States was doing enough to curtail al Qaeda’s influence on the continent.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb could be “a bigger problem in the future if we don’t deal with it,” Rogers added. “I am very worried about us not getting it right.”
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Better get your maps out.
You may (or may not) have heard that there is a French-led “military intervention” going on in the West African state of Mali.
This morning’s headlines:
French forces have bombed rebel bases in Mali, where Islamist rebels have threatened to advance on the capital Bamako from their strongholds in the north. France said it had decided to act to stop the offensive, which could create “a terrorist state at the doorstep of France and Europe”.
France hit Islamist rebels in Mali with fresh air strikes and deployed armored cars on Tuesday, stepping up its intervention in the West African state as regional allies struggled to accelerate their plans to send in troops.
France has been sending in troops and has carried out air strikes in the northern half of its former colony of Mali since Friday. That part of Mali was taken over by “an Islamist alliance combining al Qaeda’s north African wing AQIM with Mali’s home-grown MUJWA and Ansar Dine rebel groups” which France and other regional states “fear could become a base for attacks by Islamist militants in Africa and Europe,” according to Reuters.
Furthermore, according to Reuters:
West African defense chiefs were meeting in the Malian capital Bamako on Tuesday to approve plans for speeding up the deployment of 3,300 regional troops, foreseen in a United Nation-backed intervention plan to be led by Africans. France sent its forces into Mali last week to block a surprise southwards push by the rebels.
“We will continue the deployment of forces on the ground and in the air,” [French President Francois] Hollande said. “We have 750 troops deployed at the moment and that will keep increasing so that as quickly as possible we can hand over to the Africans.”
France’s defense ministry has said it plans to deploy 2,500 soldiers in its former colony to bolster the Malian army and work with the intervention force provided by the ECOWAS grouping of West African states.
And just a few hours ago:
France will end its intervention in Mali only once stability has returned to the West African country, French President Francois Hollande said on Tuesday, raising the prospects of a costly, drawn-out operation against al Qaeda-linked rebels.
One may ask what the U.S. role is in this “military intervention” by a U.S. ally.
Well, on Monday the LA Times reported:
The Obama administration is preparing to ferry hundreds of additional French troops to the North African country of Mali, bolstering a rapidly evolving military campaign in the latest conflict with Al Qaeda affiliates.
U.S. officials said they also were making plans to send drones or other surveillance aircraft and provide help with aerial refueling of French fighter jets, which bombed columns of Al Qaeda-allied militants in northern Mali for a fourth straight day Monday.
Also on Monday, the Department of Defense said in a press release titled, “Panetta: U.S. Support to French in Mali Aimed at al-Qaida”:
U.S. and French defense leaders are hammering out details of intelligence, logistics and airlift assistance the United States will provide to French forces in Mali, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said today.
Speaking to reporters on the flight to the Portuguese capital, the secretary said such planned assistance demonstrates U.S. leaders’ resolve that “we have a responsibility to go after al-Qaida wherever they are.”
“We’ve gone after them in the FATA,” Panetta said, referring to the federally administered tribal areas in Pakistan’s northwest. “We’re going after them in Yemen and Somalia. And we have a responsibility to make sure that al-Qaida does not establish a base for operations in North Africa and Mali.”
The secretary said DOD officials have been working with regional partners to try to develop plans to confront that threat. “I commend France for taking the steps that it has,” he added. “And what we have promised them is that we will work with them to … provide whatever assistance we can to try to help them in that effort.”
Officials from the Stuttgart, Germany-based U.S. Africa Command also are discussing military support with France, the secretary said. A senior official traveling with the secretary told reporters that specific U.S. support to French forces in Mali has not yet been defined, but that Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, Africom commander, spoke by phone earlier today from the African continent with the secretary, who was flying to Portugal at the time.
On Tuesday, the New York Times reports:
On Monday, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said that assistance could include air and other logistical support, but Defense Department officials said no decisions had been made on whether to help with midflight refueling planes and air transport.
American spy planes and surveillance drones are in the meantime trying to get a sense of the chaos on the ground.
Mr. Panetta said that even though Mali was far from the United States, the Obama administration was deeply worried about extremist groups there, including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. “We’re concerned that any time Al Qaeda establishes a base of operations, while they might not have any immediate plans for attacks in the United States and in Europe, that ultimately that still remains their objective,” he said.
This morning, under the heading “Panetta: No US troops on the ground in Mali,” the Stars and Stripes reports:
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday that the U.S. has ruled out putting any American troops on the ground in Mali, but officials are hoping the French will be able to succeed in establishing better security for the West African nation.
The U.S. is providing intelligence-gathering assistance to the French in their assault on Islamist extremists in Mali, and officials would not rule out having American aircraft land in the West African nation as part of future efforts to lend airlift and logistical support.
On Tuesday, Panetta said the U.S. is still working through the details of assistance it will provide France.
Panetta has called the military operation important, although “there is no consideration of putting any American boots on the ground at this time.” He said that although al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, also known as AQIM, and other affiliate groups in Mali may not pose an immediate threat to the United States, “ultimately that remains their objective.”
“We have to take steps now so that AQIM does not get that kind of traction,” he said, and ensure it does not secure a base of operations in the region.
Now you know.
While researching this new-to-me-too “military intervention,” I received an e-mail from a good friend –also a retired Air Force officer — that may represent the thoughts, and concerns, of many Americans on this potential Mali “slippery slope.”
Here are parts of Dave DePriest’s e-mail:
Now this is discouraging, if not downright alarming. We are out of Iraq. One hundred percent out as we don’t have a soldier remaining except for some Marines at the embassy. Better than we’ve done in Korea, where we still have nearly 30,000 troops.
We will be out of Afghanistan within two years.
Thus, we should soon be enjoying the first combat-free period since that short period of time between the breakup of the Soviet Union and Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. But wait, as TV advertisers are prone to say. Take a look at this
Yes, our government has decided it’s in somebody’s best interest for us to help the French as they go to war in Mali. Yes, Mali, that well known African country. Holy cow, have we used up all the old continents?
True, our involvement at the moment appears limited to airlift support plus intelligence. Just a small involvement, by AFCOM, the US Africa Command. What, you didn’t know we have an Africa Command? Well, can’t blame you because we haven’t had such a command since WWII. Not until 2006, that is. Can’t blame it on President Obama either, because it was set up two years before his watch. By SECDEF Rumsfeld, whom I admired in most respects, but who seemed to me to be one clown short of a circus on this particular decision.
Still, this is a microscopic involvement so we probably shouldn’t worry about it. The problem is that I have a very long memory. I can remember another war that started with just a very small US presence. We only provided medical assistance, very limited airlift support and a bit of intelligence in that war. Let’s see, we were helping the ……. Yes, we were helping the French! Imagine that. What a coincidence.
Of course, you’ll all recognize that was the beginning of U.S. involvement in what eventually became the Vietnam War. Déjà-Vu?
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