African misstep: A misguided U.S. adventure awaits in Mali

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The United States is considering a troubling plan, intervention in the West African state of Mali to deal with its internal problems.

In March the civilian government of Mali, a landlocked country with 16 million people, was overthrown in a military coup led by a U.S.-trained army captain. With its armed forces in disarray in part because of the coup, the northern two-thirds of the country seceded, putting Tuareg rebels and an Islamic-based organization in charge. Some of the arms used by the secessionists had been brought from Libya, where Malians had been mercenaries in Moammar Gadhafi's army.

The United States, with France, is trying to persuade the military government in Bamako, Mali's capital, to agree to armed intervention in the north by forces provided by African countries which are members of the Economic Community of West African States. The United States, some European countries and possibly the United Nations would finance the ECOWAS force.

The effort to bring this about is being led by Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson. The possible U.S. military training, supply and transport role would be carried out by the U.S. Africa Command. Mr. Carson has portrayed the Mali effort as similar to the U.S. undertaking in Somalia, now 20 years old. The United States is supporting African troops there as they try to assure order while the Somalis set up a viable government.

The Somalia enterprise has cost America $500 million so far, and there is no guarantee that it will achieve its objectives. The United States has no vital interests in Mali, and the claims that radical Islamists may take over the north are not well documented. This is an adventure that America cannot afford and it needs to be ended now.



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