“International forces will not do the ground fighting, that role will belong to the Malian army,” a military officer familiar with the plan, who asked not to be named, said on Friday.“Air strikes will be the responsibility of the international force,” he said, adding foreign partners would also provide logistical and intelligence support and soldiers and police to secure areas captured by the Malian army.Military planners from Africa, the United Nations and Europe in Mali’s capital Bamako last week drew up a battle plan that would involve a foreign force of more than 4,000 personnel, mostly from West African countries. It remains unclear how much of the force would come from Western nations.
With the French already sending drones to the region, it’s possible—likely even if all goes well—that Western involvement will remain limited to air support and intelligence gathering, while foreign (but African) troops provide security and police forces. With any luck the jihadi groups will shatter and disperse on first contact and their local allies will turn on them.Something must be done in Mali. Open sanctuaries for aggressive jihadis cannot be tolerated. But what’s the strategy? In Libya there’s an argument to be made that even though the United States ‘led from behind’ we were nevertheless used by French oil interests among others to increase French prestige and power in the neighborhood. The French are very good at getting other people to do their dirty jobs for them. Mali is part of France’s ghost empire in Africa; there’s a case to be made for remaining well in the rear and not even leading.More broadly, where is our policy heading in Africa? Have we started playing whack-a-mole with terror groups across the Sahara? And, if we manage to whack the moles on the head in Mali, where do they pop up next? And what’s our fallback plan if the first push doesn’t work?Via Meadia hopes the wizards in the State Department and National Security Council have thought these issues through more thoroughly than they did when we rushed into Libya. The ‘victory’ in Libya helped make the Mali war necessary; what new wars will another ‘victory’ in Mali bring?