(Crossposted with notable improvements at Daily Kos)
Whether this turns into another American war is yet to be seen… but the stakes are significant enough that it would be surprising if we don’t get involved. DemocracyNow has an excellent wrap explaining the basic situation: Mali is composed of the Tuareg north and the Bambara south, with the Tuaregs in rebellion. Northern Mali and neighboring northern Niger are rich in uranium. Niger’s uranium supplies France’s nuclear industry. And there’s oil and gold. Northern Niger is also a Tuareg region, and rebellions in one state tend to spread across the border.
Add to the mix these three facts: (a) that a large part of Qaddafi’s army was Tuareg, and these soldiers are repatriating to Mali and (b) that there has been a major in-gathering of Al Qaeda elements who saw the Tuarag rebellion as an excellent starting point for their own actions and who had the collaboration of the former president of Mali Amadou Toumani, and (c) the US-trained Malian army is not necessarily loyal to anyone or anything.
Oh, yeah. And the Al Qaida guys have tons of money from hostage taking of westerners and drug running.
Adam Nossiter, Eric Schmitt, and Mark Mazzetti, NYT:
But as insurgents swept through the desert last year, commanders of this nation’s elite army units, the fruit of years of careful American training, defected when they were needed most — taking troops, guns, trucks and their newfound skills to the enemy in the heat of battle, according to senior Malian military officials.
“It was a disaster,” said one of several senior Malian officers to confirm the defections.
Then an American-trained officer overthrew Mali’s elected government, setting the stage for more than half of the country to fall into the hands of Islamic extremists. American spy planes and surveillance drones have tried to make sense of the mess, but American officials and their allies are still scrambling even to get a detailed picture of who they are up against.
Now, in the face of longstanding American warnings that a Western assault on the Islamist stronghold could rally jihadists around the world and prompt terrorist attacks as far away as Europe, the French have entered the war themselves
The only ray of hope in all this, if that is what one can call it, is that Al Qaida may be doing its usual public relations stuff, cutting off hands, and so on. Many are foreigners, Algerians and Mauritanians (al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb) whose presence will probably not improve with time, but there is also Ansar al Din and MUJAO with more local roots.
For now it’s just French soldiers resisting their advance. But the stakes are serious enough that it’s inconceivable to me that the US will not be involved within days if not weeks.