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Friday, January 18, 2013

MALI: Leading from behind

by Clifford F. Thies

During the past two days, French ground forces in Mali have increased to 1400, with arrivals by transport plane of elements of the Foreign Legion from France. On arrival, these forces, along with elements of (what remains of) Mali's military, are deployed to the northeast of the capital, to confront rebel forces. The French report that Diabaly, about 250 miles from the capital, has been re-taken. France decided to intervene upon the fall of Kona to the rebels, about 400 miles from the capital, which, along with the collapse of the army of Mali, made the fall of the capital appear to be imminent.

Joining the governments of Canada and Denmark, which have provided a C-17 and a C-130 cargo plane, the U.K. and Germany have now provided two more C-17s and two C-160s. The C-17s are huge jet planes capable of flying directly from France to Mali with a payload such as three French armored personnel carriers each weighing 13 tons.

The C-130s and C-160s are smaller prop planes which would have to be re-fueled to fly from France to Mali (perhaps by U.S. C-135 tankers stationed in Italy or in Chad) (perhaps you didn't know we have a presence in that country). These planes are capable of carrying a payload such as one French armored personnel carrier. More likely, the C-130s and C-160s are tasked with transporting materials complementary to what is being sent into the country via the C-17s.

The first African troops - 200 men from Nigeria - are expected in perhaps two days. Nigeria and several other West African nations have pledged a total of 3,000 soldiers, and Chad has promised another 1,000.

Although the U.S. Secretary of Defense has emphatically stated we will not be sending combat troops into Mali, but will only provide logistical and intelligence support, the truth is we have been building up presence through much of the continent, a build-up that began under President Bush and has continued under President Obama.

The U.S. Secretary of State, apparently recovered from her case of Benghazi-itis, has definitely stated that the United States is not prepared at this time to speak to what is happening either in Mali nor in Algeria, where several Americans and other foreigners had been taken hostage. And, it goes without saying that we don't even have any suspects in the case of the attack on our consulate in Libya. But, hey, it's a beautiful day, with relatively mild weather, so why are bothering ourselves with what may or may not be happening in that part of the world.

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