Events in Mali are likely to engage the US in yet another military conflict. Neighboring Niger is a key source of uranium, not to mention oil and gold--and northern Mali is believed to have similar resources. The uranium is critical to France's important nuclear industry, which explains France's recent intervention. However, the involvement of substantial elements of foreign fighters from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb could make this America's fight as well.
(Crossposted with some edits from Mercury Rising)
Whether this turns into another American war is yet to be seen... but the stakes are significant enough that it would be surprising if we don't get involved in some degree. DemocracyNow has an excellent interview with Al Jazeera journalist May Ying Welsh explaining the basic situation: Mali is composed of the Tuareg north and the Bambara south, with the Tuaregs in rebellion (See the CIA Factbook for a more detailed ethnic analysis of Mali).
Neighboring northern Niger is rich in uranium, supplying France's nuclear industry, not to mention oil and gold. Northern Mali is believed to have similar potential, which is not welcome news to locals who are aware of the dangers of uranium mining. Northern Niger is also a Tuareg region, and rebellions of the Tuareg in Mali usually spread to Niger and vice-versa.
Add to the mix these three facts: (a) that a large part of Libyan Col. Moammar Qadhafi's army was Tuareg, and these soldiers are repatriating to Mali, (b) that there has been a major in-gathering of Al Qaeda elements who saw the Tuarag rebellion as an excellent starting point for their own actions and who had the collaboration of the former president of Mali Amadou Toumani, and (c) the US-trained Malian army is not necessarily loyal to anyone or anything (see here for an overview of the armed groups operating in northern Mali).
Oh, yeah. And the Al Qaida guys have tons of money from hostage taking of westerners and drug running.
But as insurgents swept through the desert last year, commanders of this nation’s elite army units, the fruit of years of careful American training, defected when they were needed most — taking troops, guns, trucks and their newfound skills to the enemy in the heat of battle, according to senior Malian military officials.The only ray of hope in all this, if that is what one can call it, is that Al Qaida may be doing its usual public relations stuff, cutting off hands, and so on. They have also expelled Tuareg rebels, potentially splitting the rebellion. Many of the Islamists are foreigners, Algerians and Mauritanians (al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb) whose welcome will probably not improve with time, but there is also Ansar al Din and MUJAO with more local roots.
“It was a disaster,” said one of several senior Malian officers to confirm the defections.
Then an American-trained officer overthrew Mali’s elected government, setting the stage for more than half of the country to fall into the hands of Islamic extremists. American spy planes and surveillance drones have tried to make sense of the mess, but American officials and their allies are still scrambling even to get a detailed picture of who they are up against.
Now, in the face of longstanding American warnings that a Western assault on the Islamist stronghold could rally jihadists around the world and prompt terrorist attacks as far away as Europe, the French have entered the war themselves
For now it's just French soldiers resisting their advance. But the stakes are serious enough that it's inconceivable to me that the US will not be involved within days, if not weeks. Ann Gearan et al., Washington Post:
On all sides, the overriding fear is that the militants will create a terrorist haven in rugged northern Mali similar to the one that fighters secured in Afghanistan before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.