Two years ago, France led NATO into the war that toppled Libya’s Moamar Gadhafi, who invited militants from Mali to defend his rule but ultimately fled and was slain. Now, France has been flying four days of air strikes against those same, battle-hardened militants in Mali, where, it is feared, they are establishing a large new sanctuary for al Qaeda that could threaten both northwest Africa and Europe.
The events in Mali, which is tucked in the middle of two big oil-producing areas—Algeria and the Gulf of Guinea—come after a dozen years of NATO attempts to avert the creation of new al Qaeda hubs in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. The Mali rebels include a militant offshoot known as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb, and the fear is that they could destabilize an increasingly wealthy region.
The French attack also follows a fiasco last year in which US-trained officers and troops defected and overthrew the elected government. It began Friday on the request of Malian President Dioncounda Traore, who feared that the militants, who already control the Texas-size north of the country, were poised to march on the south and the capital of Bamako.
The French may have blunted the rebel advance, and are flying aerial attacks within rebel strongholds in the north, according to reports. The British have contributed air support, the Obama Administration is contemplating sending drones and refueling aircraft, and Canada is dispatching logistical support.
France has called a meeting of the UN Security Council today.