Our view

Preparing to lead from rear in another war

Another war in northern Africa is in the offing. The United States, along with the major European Union nations, is pledged to support it with training, supplies and logistics. But this time, no matter how diplomatically desirable, the U.S. and its European allies may not be able to “lead from the rear,” in President Barack Obama’s memorable phrase.

For years, Mali, a former French colony, was one of northwest Africa’s most stable nations, despite deep ethnic and religious divisions and an unstable climate in the north that has produced some of history’s worst famines.

As so often seems to happen in Africa, a group of junior officers overthrew the elected government in March, allowing a secessionist movement to seize control of the sprawling northern part of the country. The secessionists were quickly displaced by radical Islamic militias, including al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which became the dominant power in the north.

The Islamic radicals were easily able to repulse a few feeble efforts by Mali’s army to oust them, and their brutal version of Islam forced a half-million refugees to flee to the south.

The African Union and the Economic Community of West African States believed, rightly, that it would be a bad idea to let the radical Islamists take root there, on the well-founded grounds that after brutalizing their own people they would begin threatening their neighbors.

The U.N. Security Council agreed and authorized Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to develop a plan for Mali to oust the radicals and regain its territory, using troops from the African Union with support from the U.S. and the European Union – principally Britain and France, with Germany offering its usual restrained help.

Though its efforts have been overshadowed by more dramatic events at home, the U.S. is actively involved in organizing this military venture. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Michael Pelletier told reporters in late October, “We’ve seen recently that the situation has worsened and we must do something to resolve this challenge.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was soon in neighboring Algeria, which has years of experience fighting radical groups in the desert, to actively support the African Union campaign in Mali. It would be best if Algeria joined the U.S. and EU in evicting the radicals. If not, the war will go on without them.

Opponents of the intervention might argue: Why not let the Islamic radicals be? They’re in the middle of nowhere, far from any major urban centers. Who can they harm, except their own people?

That was the U.S. thinking in Afghanistan from the time the Soviet Union pulled out in 1989 until the hijacked airliners hit the World Trade Center in 2001. There is no excuse for not learning from that grievous mistake.

Scripps Howard News Service


Discussion | 10 comments

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  • Mike kirchubelNovember 21, 2012 - 6:44 pm

    Please provide justification for the US to enter yet another war. And please make it sound good, like you were talking to the family of a soldier killed in ... Where was it this time? Mali? Iran? Syria? North Korea? Somalia?

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  • rlw895November 21, 2012 - 8:45 pm

    Mike: I think it was the Afghanistan comparison.

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  • Just so we all know......November 22, 2012 - 9:01 am

    November 5, 2008: The new U.S. AFRICOM (Africa Command) could not find a home in Africa. AFRICOM is similar in organization to other commands (Central, for the Middle East, and South, for Latin America, etc). AFRICOM will coordinate all American military operations in Africa. Before, those operations were coordinated between two commands (the one covering Europe and the one covering Latin America). The establishment of AFRICOM means more money for counter-terror operations in Africa, and more long range projects. But the U.S. could not find a country with the combination of infrastructure, and willingness, to host a base for the AFRICOM headquarters................... One thing most African nations do want from AFRICOM are military and counter-terrorism trainers. The problem with this is that, the people so trained are often then employed as enforcers for the local dictator. Even providing training for peacekeepers can backfire, for those peacekeeping skills can also be used to pacify your own people.

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  • ContinuedNovember 22, 2012 - 9:04 am

    This lack of cooperation in hosting AFRICOM is troublesome, although not unexpected. Many of the requests for basing rights come with large financial incentives (rent payments, jobs for locals). The United States is the major provider of foreign aid to Africa, and has been for some time. The mass media has been painting the U.S. as Mr Evil for a long time, especially in nations with large Moslem populations. But eventually, reality trumps propaganda. However, the reality of Africa is that the place is poorly governed, poorly policed and poorly served by its elected, or self-appointed, leaders. Corruption and crime are abundant, and terrorists have no trouble operating there. The main reason the terrorists don't do more dirt there is that even terrorists like a more predictable, and less chaotic, environment............ The U.S. is spending $92 million to build office and support facilities for the AFRICOM near SOUTHCOM headquarters, outside Miami, Florida. Construction will be complete next year. AFRICOM headquarters are currently located outside Stuttgart, Germany, where it will remain until a home can be found in an African country. Many African nations are leery about getting involved. There is fear of terrorist attacks on any AFRICOM facilities in their territory, and some African nations, at least those run by dictators, don't want more Americans, and their democratic ideas, upsetting the status quo. The current thinking is that AFRICOM headquarters will remain in Germany for a long time.

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  • ContinuedNovember 22, 2012 - 9:08 am

    AFRICOM is one of six "unified commands" that have regional responsibility for all U.S. military operations in their area. The other five are Central Command (CENTCOM covers the Middle East, Afghanistan and Central Asia), whose headquarters is in Tampa, Florida. European Command (EUCOM, covers Europe and Russia) is in Stuttgart, Germany. Pacific Command (PACOM covers the Pacific, China, and India and its neighbors) is in Honolulu, Hawaii. Northern Command (NORTHCOM covers North America) is in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM covers South America) is in Miami, Florida. SOUTHCOM used to be headquartered in Panama, but given the situation in South America, moving it back to the United States seemed a prudent idea. Same thing with CENTCOM, although they do have a "tactical headquarters" in the Persian Gulf.

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  • Reference for aboveNovember 22, 2012 - 9:11 am


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  • NWO = 10 World Regions?November 22, 2012 - 9:17 am


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  • Babylon The Great isNovember 22, 2012 - 9:28 am

    The British/French/UNITED STATES/Israel Zionist/Military Industrial/Media complex/funded by THE FEDERAL RESERVE and Rothschild controlled central banks. When you think Vietnam, who benefits, think the French House of Rothschild. Lybia, Syria, Lebanon(?)think..the French House of Rothschild. Ever stop to consider why France surrendered so quickly during WWII, think Vichy government, think preserving the interests of the French House of Rothschild.

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  • It is the Luciferian IlluminatiNovember 22, 2012 - 9:39 am

    The Central Bankers created and funded the rise of communism. They play both sides supposed capitalism and communism. Now they have funded and encouraged radical islam as the new enemy so that we all fight each other and that they can control the mideast, to put it into the NEW WORLD ORDER. Read Revelation in the Bible.

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  • Illuminati - London Bombing in PerspectiveNovember 22, 2012 - 3:02 pm


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