Monday the United States signed a status-of-forces agreement with Niger that would allow the U.S. to fly drones from Nigerian air strips into neighboring Mali. Additionally, the U.S. is letting France use three of its air tankers for troop transport and mid-air refueling. The U.S. role in Mali is currently limited to support and intelligence gathering, with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta indicating that a ground troop presence is unlikely.
As of Monday, there were fewer than 50 U.S. military personnel in Niger. In addition to military support, the U.S. has pledged $96 million to fight al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Mali, pending congressional approval. France has spearheaded the Mali operations, as Mali is a former French colony.
Last year a military coup in Mali led to a vacuum of power in which Tuareg rebels were able to take control of large portions of North Mali. Tuaregs are separatists who wish to establish their own country, which they call Azawad. Many Tuaregs fought on the side of Gadhafi in Libya, where they received large amounts of arms. After they took control of North Mali, they were toppled by Islamic extremists linked to AQIM.
AQIM has been linked to the Benghazi attack and now controls a portion of North Mali roughly the size of France, although French forces have been capturing portions of it. They have enacted a form of sharia law where music, smoking, drinking, and watching sports on television have all been banned. There have been public floggings and amputations, as well as at least one public stoning for adultery. They have also destroyed tombs and shrines, such as ones in Timbuktu, which they deemed idolatrous.
The U.N. Security Council has authorized a one-year military peacekeeping mission in Mali. Currently France has 2,150 soldiers on Malian soil and they have captured Timbuktu. They are also guarding a closed border with neighboring Algeria to the north. As a result of Algeria allowing French access to conduct military operations, rebels in Algeria attacked a BP compound. This has raised concerns of the conflict spilling into neighboring countries which are ill equipped to handle the instability.
The Wall Street Journal, U.S. to Expand Role in Africa: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323644904578270374130708196.html?mod=WSJ_hps_LEFTTopStories
The Wall Street Journal, French and Malian Forces Retake Timbuktu: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323375204578269280449267720.html
CNN, French President on Military Offensive: http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/29/world/africa/mali-military-offensive/index.html
CNN, Six Reasons Events in Mali Matter: http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/16/world/africa/mali-six-reasons/index.html
CNN, What’s Behind the Instability in Mali: http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/12/world/africa/mali-q-a/index.html
BBC, Mali Profile: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-13881370
Infowars, Ron Paul: U.S. Action in Mali is Another Undeclared War: http://www.infowars.com/u-s-action-in-mali-is-another-undeclared-war/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter
National Counterterrorism Center, AQIM: http://www.nctc.gov/site/groups/aqim.html
Reuters, U.S. Commander Says Benghazi Attacks Linked to AQIM: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/14/us-mali-usa-idUSBRE8AD0WF20121114
The Daily Beast, Intercepts Show Attackers on U.S. Consulate in Benghazi Bragged to Al Qaeda: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/09/28/intercepts-show-attackers-on-u-s-consulate-in-benghazi-bragged-to-al-qaeda.html
CIA World Factbook, Mali: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ml.html
The Guardian, Mali Conflict: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jan/14/mali-conflict-france-gates-hell
U.S.A. Today, U.S. Military Role in Mali Not Far Off: http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2013/01/28/dewayne-wickham-on-mali-and-us-involvement/1868185/
U.S.A. Today, U.S. Aiding French Troops in Mali: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/01/21/united-states-aid-military-mali-france/1851755/
The New York Times, With Timbuktu Taken, France Signals It Plans to Pull Back in Mali: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/30/world/africa/mali-timbuktu-france-britain.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&smid=tw-nytimes&_r=0
U.S.A. Today, Obama Announces Additional $155 Million in Aid to Syria: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2013/01/29/obama-syria-aid/1873755/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter&dlvrit=206567
Reuters, Niger Gives Green Light to U.S. Drone Deployment: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/29/us-mali-rebels-niger-idUSBRE90S0DX20130129