Round up the usual freedom fighters
Washington's "leading from behind" position is illustrated by this State Department press conference. Essentially, the government in Bamako asked for the French to get down and dirty.
And that's it.
Not really. Anyone who thinks "bomb al-Qaeda" is all there is to Mali must be living in Oz. To start with, using hardcore Islamists to suffocate an indigenous independence movement comes straight from the historic CIA/Pentagon playbook.
Moreover, Mali is crucial to AFRICOM and to the Pentagon's overall MENA (Middle East-Northern Africa) outlook. Months before 9/11 I had the privilege to crisscross Mali on the road -- and by the (Niger) river -- and hang out, especially in Mopti and Timbuktu, with the awesome Tuaregs, who gave me a crash course in Northwest Africa. I saw Wahhabi and Pakistani preachers all over the place. I saw the Tuaregs progressively squeezed out. I saw an Afghanistan in the making. And it was not very hard to follow the money sipping tea in the Sahara. Mali borders Algeria, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Senegal, the Ivory Coast and Guinea. The spectacular Inner Niger delta is in central Mali -- just south of the Sahara. Mali overflows with gold, uranium, bauxite, iron, manganese, tin and copper. And -- Pipelineistan beckons! -- there's plenty of unexplored oil in northern Mali.
As early as February 2008, Vice Admiral Robert T Moeller was saying that AFRICOM's mission was to protect "the free flow of natural resources from Africa to the global market"; yes, he did make the crucial connection to China, pronounced guilty of "challenging US interests."
AFRICOM's spy planes have been "observing" Mali, Mauritania and the Sahara for months, in thesis looking for AQIM fighters; the whole thing is overseen by US Special Forces, part of the classified, code-named Creek Sand operation, based in next-door Burkina Faso. Forget about spotting any Americans; these are -- what else -- contractors who do not wear military uniforms.
Last month, at Brown University, General Carter Ham, AFRICOM's commander, once more gave a big push to the "mission to advance US security interests across Africa." Now it's all about the -- updated -- US National Security Strategy in Africa, signed by Obama in June 2012. The (conveniently vague) objectives of this strategy are to "strengthen democratic institutions"; encourage "economic growth, trade and investment"; "advance peace and security"; and "promote opportunity and development."
In practice, it's Western militarization (with Washington "leading from behind") versus the ongoing Chinese seduction/investment drive in Africa. In Mali, the ideal Washington scenario would be a Sudan remix; just like the recent partition of North and South Sudan, which created an extra logistical headache for Beijing, why not a partition of Mali to better exploit its natural wealth? By the way, Mali was known as Western Sudan until independence in 1960.
Already in early December a "multinational" war in Mali was on the Pentagon cards.
The beauty of it is that even with a Western-financed, Pentagon-supported, "multinational" proxy army about to get into the action, it's the French who are pouring the lethal Hollandaise sauce (nothing like an ex-colony "in trouble" to whet the appetite of its former masters). The Pentagon can always keep using its discreet P-3 spy planes and Global Hawk drones based in Europe, and later on transport West African troops and give them aerial cover. But all secret, and very hush hush.
Mr Quagmire has already reared its ugly head in record time, even before the 1,400 (and counting) French boots on the ground went into offense.
A MUJAO commando team (and not AQIM, as it's been reported), led by who else but the "uncatchable" Belmokhtar, hit a gas field in the middle of the Algerian Sahara desert, over 1,000 km south of Algiers but only 100 km from the Libyan border, where they captured a bunch of Western (and some Japanese) hostages; a rescue operation launched on Wednesday by Algerian Special Forces was, to put it mildly, a giant mess, with at least seven foreign hostages and 23 Algerians so far confirmed killed.
The gas field is being exploited by BP, Statoil and Sonatrach. MUJAO has denounced -- what else -- the new French "crusade" and the fact that French fighter jets now own Algerian airspace.
As blowback goes, this is just the hors d'oeuvres. And it won't be confined to Mali. It will convulse Algeria and soon Niger, the source of over a third of the uranium in French nuclear power plants, and the whole Sahara-Sahel.
So this new, brewing mega-Afghanistan in Africa will be good for French neoloconial interests (even though Hollande insists this is all about "peace"); good for AFRICOM; a boost for those Jihadis Formerly Known as NATO Rebels; and certainly good for the never-ending Global War on Terror (GWOT), duly renamed "kinetic military operations."