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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.

Adam Nossiter, Eric Schmitt, and Mark Mazzetti, NYT:

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.

“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

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.

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.

Originally posted to CharlesII on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 08:23 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Please no (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    shigeru, DRo, Buckeye Nut Schell

    but we're gonna get into this, no way around it.

    Orly, it isn't evidence just because you downloaded it from the internet.

    by 6412093 on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 10:52:31 PM PST

    •  Why? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Lawrence, Blubba
      •  Already in Mali, Pres has applauded France actions (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Bisbonian

        and spending huge amounts on airfields etc. on the continent. Looks likely, but not something I would support. WaPo has covered the Africa expansion.

        Here is another report

        America's Shadow Wars in Africa
        A small excerpt from the longish post:
        The Great Build-Up

        Military contracting documents reveal plans for an investment of up to $180 million or more in construction at Camp Lemonnier alone.  Chief among the projects will be the laying of 54,500 square meters of taxiways “to support medium-load aircraft” and the construction of a 185,000 square meter Combat Aircraft Loading Area.  In addition, plans are in the works to erect modular maintenance structures, hangers, and ammunition storage facilities, all needed for an expanding set of secret wars in Africa.

        Other contracting documents suggest that, in the years to come, the Pentagon will be investing up to $50 million in new projects at that base, Kenya’s Camp Simba, and additional unspecified locations in Africa.  Still other solicitation materials suggest future military construction in Egypt, where the Pentagon already maintains a medical research facility, and still more work in Djibouti.

        No less telling are contracting documents indicating a coming influx of “emergency troop housing” at Camp Lemonnier, including almost 300 additional Containerized Living Units (CLUs), stackable, air-conditioned living quarters, as well as latrines and laundry facilities.

        Military documents also indicate that a nearly $450,000 exercise facility was installed at the U.S. base in Entebbe, Uganda, last year.  All of this indicates that, for the Pentagon, its African build-up has only begun.

        Move Single Payer Forward? Join 18,000 Doctors of PNHP and 185,000 member National Nurses United

        by divineorder on Wed Jan 16, 2013 at 10:30:16 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  This sort of crap is mostly (6+ / 0-)

          about gun-running - the practice of making big bucks arming all sides in any local or regional conflict. The problem with that comes from any increasing likelihood that our own soldiers might end up in the target range.

          Arms dealing is a 1.5 trillion (with a 't') dollar annual industry, and growing all the time. The U.S. is the leading arms dealer in the world, and we learned decades ago that it's not all that particular about 'good guys' versus 'bad guys' when there's cash on the table. Top 10 in arms exports:

          1. United States
          2. Russia
          3. Germany
          4. France
          5. China
          6. United Kingdom
          7. Italy
          8. Israel
          9. Sweden
          10. Ukraine

          As for yellowcake, there's not going to be a ready or expanding market for it in the future. Even the hardest core of the hard core nuke-lovers know now that destroying your own country for really expensive electricity isn't very smart or economically sustainable.

  •  Let's fight so we don't. Last thing we need is (5+ / 0-)

    another life and $$$$ draining series.

    If... the machine of government... is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. ~Henry David Thoreau, On the Duty of Civil Disobediance, 1849

    by shigeru on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 11:46:43 PM PST

  •  Um, we already in Africa (0+ / 0-)

    to deal with Somalia, in Uganda to deal with the Lord's Reaistance Army and elsewhere for all I know. None of those other efforts have anything to do with Uranium or other natual resources. We mostly send teams to conduct surveillance, advise and coordinate with the local forces when targets are identified. Our forces are under strict orders not to engage terrorists or rebels directly. IF the US gets involved in Nigeria it would likely be under similar circumstances. Also, Nigeria already has a rebel problem over control of their oil  resources. Why would we get sucked into a fight over uranium but not oil (Nigeria is ranked #10 in production and climbing)?

    •  Niger != Nigeria (3+ / 0-)

      Nigeria is a former British colony, whereas neighboring Niger used to be part of French West Africa.

      Their names are translations of "al-Sudan", the traditional Arabic name for a wide swath of  sub-Saharan Africa. "Sudan" is a plural form of "aswad" = "black"., i.e. land of the black people.

    •  i believe that was also the case in vietnam, (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      divineorder, AoT, Bisbonian, lotlizard

      "Our forces are under strict orders not to engage terrorists or rebels directly."

      they were only "advisers", not combat troops. the problem with that, is when the troops they are "advising" come under fire, then, not surprisingly, so do the "advisers", who tend to return fire, if only in self-defense. they also tend to get wounded/killed in the process.

      if only those pesky enemy troops would just go along with the damn program!

      •  Africa is a big place (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        balancedscales, AoT

        Turns out it's the 2nd biggest continent on Earth. The only US military in Niger are the Marines at the US embassy. The "advisors" you refer to to are hundreds of miles away.

      •  So you see us having multiple (0+ / 0-)

        Vietnam wars in Africa like in Uganda where we already have advisors, in Somalia where one of our planes encroached on their airspace in support of France's failed rescue attempt, in Nigeria where as far as I know we have no advisors but you believe will  to protect their oil resources, and in Mali where we also have no advisors that I know of but you think we will so France can maintain a steady supply of Uranium for their nuclear plants from Niger? Amazing.

  •  Transition quickly to Thorium (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gc10

    Thorium fails safe, is relatively abundant, and the waste only has to be stored for 100's not 10,000's of years.

    The only reason we use Uranium is because uranium reactors create plutonium with which we can destroy the planet.  

    Hard to see an upside there, isn't it?

    We kidnap. We torture. It's our policy. Embrace it or end it!

    by Mosquito Pilot on Wed Jan 16, 2013 at 04:11:09 AM PST

    •  yes, and China has embraced Thorium (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mosquito Pilot

      for its expansion of nuclear energy.  Which also tells me they are not particularly interested in a nuclear arms race.

      If thorium had been  used in the reactor at Fukushima, when the electric went down, the reactor would have shut down automatically  without any toxic discharge.

      Anyone who isn't confused doesn't really understand the situation. - Edward R Murrow

      by gc10 on Wed Jan 16, 2013 at 07:27:03 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  if you think about it, this, along with somalia, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Quicklund, alwaysquestion, Bisbonian

    should be an american libertarian's wet dream come true:

    1. no real, organized, central government.
    2. capitalism, with a capital "C".
    3. every man/woman/child for themselves.

    it makes even the fetishized versions of the old, american "wild west" look tame, by comparison. i expect there should soon be a mass exodus, of all the paul/randian "libertarians", to this new "paradise" of free-market land.

  •  How can uranium "Thought" to be in Mali (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    balancedscales, Lawrence, AoT, Blubba

    be "critical to the French nuclear industry"? Do their reactors run on imaginary fuel?

    The French have fought in Africa dozens of times over the past 50+ years. The Belgians have fought in Africa. So have the Portuguese. They have fought against similar insurgent movements in their former colonial regions. And they have done so without US involvement.

    There's no reason given for US involvement other than some vague notion that there is fighting somewhere on Earth so US troops will of course start fighting there.

    We can really do without more premature fear-mongering, don't you think?

    •  Uranium is vital to the French nuclear (0+ / 0-)

      industry and is thought to be in Mali.  That means France has a clear interest in having a friendly government there.

      The French have fought in Africa dozens of times over the past 50+ years. The Belgians have fought in Africa. So have the Portuguese. They have fought against similar insurgent movements in their former colonial regions. And they have done so without US involvement.

      There's no reason given for US involvement other than some vague notion that there is fighting somewhere on Earth so US troops will of course start fighting there.

      Exactly.  France has an army and isn't worried about using it.
  •  Yellowcake, holy WMD’s, Neocons! (0+ / 0-)

    p.s. – we don’t  care about no stinkin’ tribal/ethnic issues. Drone ‘em!

  •  Er, the Tuareg's already hate the islamists. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AoT, marsanges

    They've already been fighting them and are likely to up their efforts now that France is eliminating the islamists' heavy weapons advantage.

    Mali is unlikely to turn out anything like Afghanistan... the geography is far different and there's no neighboring hostile state like Pakistan.

    "A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle" - Mohammed Nabbous, R.I.P.

    by Lawrence on Wed Jan 16, 2013 at 01:17:21 PM PST

  •  Back during the Vietnam War, many people (0+ / 0-)

    suggested that we make Vietnam the 51st state, so we could cut out all the bullshit about occupying another country.

    I think we should do something similar when it comes to yellowcake uranium.  We should make all locations in the world that can be mined for yellowcake uranium into the 51st state.  It wouldn't have contiguous borders, of course, but, hey, neither does Hawaii, so that's no deal breaker.  We could build a McDonald's and an Applebee's everywhere we suspect there's yellowcake uranium.  Also, we should make any place in the world that might have oil resources into the 52nd state, so we can avoid all these silly wars in the Middle East.  All the people that live there we could deport to some other country that has no resources that constitute an American state.

    That's about where we're headed anyway.

  •  Disappointing (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Bisbonian

    I'm disappointed by some of the critical comments to this post. Had folks read the links, they would have discovered that:

    a. Uranium is critical to France's energy policy and more broadly to Europe's energy security. There is intensive exploration going on in Mali because they're quite sure there's uranium and because they think they really need it. (there's also Chinese competition, but that's another story)

    b. It's idiotic to criticize a post for what it states quite clearly: the imminent danger is not mines which have yet to be dug, but that the Tuareg rebellion will spread into neighboring Niger where existing mines are. That said, it would not do to have Al Qaida in charge of even lands even capable of producing uranium, since they could make dirty bombs with it.  

    c. The links directly contradict the claim that Tuaregs hate al Qaida. There is an alliance between some Tuaregs and Al Qaida. Some Tuaregs do indeed hate them--hopefully enough so that they can't turn this into an Aghanistan, but it's very dangerous to have an indigenous population potentially willing to ally with Al Qaida (see Sunni rising, Iraq, ca. 2005).  

    d. Even after the imminent crisis, there's the problem of the Tuaregs. They don't want the Bambara. They don't want the French. It will probably be very difficult to make them accept rule from the south or from elsewhere. It is very much like the Pashtun region of Afghanistan and Pakistan in that regard.

    e. It's very irritating to criticize an article for being a "chain of thin speculations" when it contains no speculation whatsoever. It contains well-sourced facts and my opinion.  

    The main constructive response to this post has been the link to Nick Turse's work on America's shadow wars in Africa. The US considers Al Qaida activity in Africa to be a very, very big deal

    I'm sorry to be irritable about this, but I wasted several good hours to alert Kossacks to a matter of genuine concern. If you are lazy enough or uninterested enough not to follow the links, please be good enough just to withhold commenting.

    Thanks as always to those who give recommends to well-researched articles. There's always the chance that an issue that could affect our lives will break through the smog of Washington courtier susurration.  

    •  And I am even more disappointed (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      marsanges

      that you failed to provide a compelling case why the US would intervene. France, OK, maybe. But the US? What is our interest?

      •  I'll let events speak (0+ / 0-)

        You know, I am just going to let events open the eyes of those who just do not want to pay attention, Blubba.

        Some Kossacks are spoiled, getting free analysis from thoughtful, knowledgeable people and behaving like brats.  

        •  Don't flatter yourself. (0+ / 0-)

          The military involvement will be limited to ferrying other country's troops and equipment because we have heavy lift transport planes and maybe surveillance. Nothing worth the alarmist tone you set.

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