It’s been just 3 days since I last wrote about the French military supporting the embattled West African nation of Mali, but a lot has happened since.
French and Malian military forces–formerly empire and colony, now teamed up–have gone on the offensive, driving militant rebels back from their recent acquisitions with air strikes and armored vehicle assaults. As of Sunday Jan. 27, 2013 France and Mali had reclaimed the city of Gao and the historical trading center Timbuktu in Mali’s expansive northern region. Both had been held by rebels since spring of 2012.
In another intriguing wrinkle to the unfolding saga, the U.S. military is entering the fray…sort of. The U.S. has been providing aerial refueling services for French planes as well as air transport of troops from elsewhere in Africa. It plans to expand this support in response to France’s request.
But there seems to be discord within the U.S. government about contributions currently given, and how far such contributions should go. There is also a legal issue: U.S. law prohibits providing “foreign assistance funds” to countries whose leaders gained power through a coup. As I wrote about 3 days ago that is exactly what happened in Mali. Yet according to the Pentagon current U.S. involvement – providing air transportation and fuel — is not considered foreign assistance funds and thus within the law.
It seems unlikely the U.S. will send any troops to Mali, at least at this point. But the rebels affiliation with al Qaeda is certainly of concern. For now it appears the onus of force remains on France. But what exactly are they fighting to preserve? Is a government legitimate–or perhaps more critically, legitimately democratic–if its leaders are in the position of authority they are in b/c of a military coup?
These are questions French and American authorities should be asking themselves. I hope they are.