The issue: Islamic radicals want to establish Mali as a home base
At one time, a major French military incursion into a former colony would have been roundly denounced in West and Central Africa as a return to colonialism and imperialism.
But French troops, Mirage and Rafale fighter aircraft and helicopter gunships in dysfunctional and disintegrating Mali are being met with promises of assistance and troops by surrounding nations.
MALI HAS HAD a long-running rebellion in its far north by ethnically distinct Tuareg tribes seeking greater autonomy. Their rebellion has gradually been hijacked by Islamic radicals, including several branches of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and other radical Islamic groups bolstered by veteran fighters from the war in Libya.
After an inconclusive but disruptive coup in March, led — it is dispiriting to say — by U.S.-trained officers, the Islamic radicals began moving south from their thinly populated 250,000-square-mile haven in the north.
Government troops put up little resistance. Some even defected, taking their U.S.-supplied equipment with them. Soon, the radicals began advancing almost unopposed, leaving the typical legacy of beheadings, amputations, third-class treatment of women and bans on music and Western entertainment in their wake.
Their goal, as town after town fell, was to install their mystical medieval vision of a caliphate that would drive out Western influence and eventually rule the Muslim world.
The preferred international solution was a pan-African army that would rout the invaders and restore government authority. However, by the time such an army was organized, trained and deployed, it would have been too late, although plans for its formation continue.
ENTER THE FRENCH. Prime Minister Francois Hollande, whom no one ever thought of as tough and decisive, unilaterally dispatched combat troops and aircraft, enough to slow the radicals’ southern advance to a crawl.
The French combat buildup continues, with that nation’s Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian saying the United States has pledged “total solidarity” and reportedly already has supplied logistical support, satellite reconnaissance, intelligence and in-air refueling.
Americans have little appetite for yet another military involvement in a remote land, but this could become our fight, too. Al-Qaida has not given up its plans of a grand blow against the West, especially the United States. All it needs is a country to launch it from.