Over the past few weeks, news of unrest in Mali has finally gained limited attention in the United States. The news stories have many people beginning to ask questions about the country and how the current situation could negatively impact the United States, if at all.
Mali is a landlocked, West African nation situated below Algeria. Until early 2012, the Republic of Mali upheld a constitutional democracy and foreign relations with Western countries were becoming increasingly positive. France, a former colonial ruler of Mali, was greeted ambivalently since Mali won its independence in 1960, but still maintained a working relationship with the nation. In January 2012, a rebellion began in Northern Mali led by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MLNA). Then, in March 2012, a military officer by the name of Amadou Sanogo seized power in a coup d’état, citing the acting President’s (Amadou Toumani Touré) failure to squash the northern rebellion. The MLNA took control of the North and declared independence as Azawad. The MLNA had accepted assistance from Islamist groups during their defeat of the government. Two specific groups, Ansar Dine and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), proceeded to turn on the MLNA and seized power of the North with the intent to implement Sharia law in Mali.
Fast forward to January 2013: Sanogo’s government requested the intervention of the French Armed Forces to push out the MLNA and the Islamic groups associated with the organization when they began a surprise offensive toward the capital of Bamako. Since March 2012, the Islamic groups have flourished in Mali and successfully imposed Sharia law in some areas. Mali has essentially become a haven for Islamic extremists. Such a revelation is a great cause for concern not only for the United States but also for the nations of Europe, as Mali’s geographic location is much closer than Iran, Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern nations with known insurgent populations. The French currently have boots on the ground in Mali, and while they have not yet requested United Nations assistance, the Obama administration will likely announce military support to French troops. It is widely believed such American support will come in the form of intelligence and overhead surveillance, including unmanned drones.
Why should you follow the news coming out of Mali? The current situation could have a strong impact on the United States and its allies, should the Islamic insurgents successfully control the nation. A new haven for Islamic terrorists in West Africa could create an additional front in the war on terror. Furthermore, the unrest in Mali is creating a humanitarian crisis in its wake. Thousands are fleeing over the borders of Mauritania and into refugee camps where there are not enough provisions for them. Mali’s democratic future hangs in the balance as precariously as the lives of the Malians caught in the crossfire.