Foreign Islamist jihadists from Sudan, Algeria, Libya and elsewhere, who are part of a network of terrorist groups that affiliate themselves with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, are entrenching themselves in yet another African country. Al Qaeda is currently occupying an area the size of France in the northern portion of Mali. Like a virus exploiting a weak immune system, the jihadists, mostly Arabs, are exploiting a power vacuum created by internal fighting among ethnic tribes within Mali that had led to a coup and a weakened central government.
Yet, in the face of both a strategic and humanitarian crisis in northern Mali caused by Islamist jihadist invaders, the Obama administration is dithering as conditions in northern Mali worsen by the day. So is the United Nations on which the Obama administration appears to be relying for a global consensus regarding what to do next.
Reports from the ground indicate that the jihadists have stepped up their forces in the area, turning northern Mali into another breeding ground for the spread of Islamic terrorism throughout Africa. According to the top American military commander in Africa, Gen. Carter F. Ham, the jihadists in Mali are providing arms, explosives and financing to their counterparts in northern Nigeria, where Christians are already being murdered and churches burned. Moreover, al Qaeda is using its control of northern Mali to increase recruiting across sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Europe, according to Gen. Ham.
Northern Mali is also near the tipping point of becoming the current version of the Afghanistan of the 1990's, in terms of its use as a base for plotting, training and launching of terrorist attacks around the world. Indeed, according to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Mali-based extremists played a role in the September 11th attack in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. That fact alone would merit direct American action to eliminate the al Qaeda presence in Mali. Yet there is silence from the Obama White House.
The jihadist occupiers have also committed gross human rights violations against the local Malian population. Imposing Taliban-style sharia law in place of Sufism that most Malians practice, the occupiers have destroyed the local population's most revered religious monuments the jihadists considered idolatrous and subjected Malians to amputations, stoning, extra-judicial executions and recruitment of children as soldiers. As usual when sharia law is applied, women have been targeted for the harshest treatment. Over 412,000 people have been forced to flee the north.
Mali leaders have pleaded for help from their neighbors with whom they have had peaceful relations. The African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) responded with an offer of military assistance to uproot the Islamist invaders. In accordance with the United Nations Charter, these regional groups have gone to the UN Security Council to seek authorization and support for an African-led military force to drive out the occupiers.
The Council passed a resolution in October. It stated the Security Council's readiness to consider requests for international military force under African auspices to intervene in Mali, but kicked the can down the road until it received a report from Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on the situation in Mali and further recommendations for UN action.
Under Secretary General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman presented the Secretary General’s report on Mali to the Security Council on December 5th, followed by statements from representatives of Mali, ECOWAS and the African Union. The disconnect on what to do next between the UN Secretary General's passive recommendations and the call for forceful action by the Mali, ECOWAS and African Union representatives was glaring.
Although conceding the urgency of conditions on the ground in northern Mali, the Secretary General's report urged patience. Give "national dialogue" more time to sort out Mali's internal issues, prepare a "transitional roadmap" (a favorite phrase the UN bureaucracy uses when it has no concrete plan of action) and establish the conditions for a credible election, the report recommended.
"A military operation may be required as a last resort to deal with terrorist and criminal elements in northern Mali," Under Secretary General Feltman told the Security Council in summarizing Ban Ki-moon's report, "but the priority must be on supporting the national authorities to restore constitutional order and reach a political settlement to the ongoing crisis."
The report expressed concern that the request to the Security Council to authorize a United Nations support package for an offensive military operation could have an "impact on the image of the United Nations," as if its image could become any worse in dealing with the global Islamist threat. The United Nations is "not best placed to directly tackle the security threat posed by terrorists and affiliated groups," the report conceded.
Nevertheless, while disavowing the UN's responsibility for providing direct support or funding from the UN's regular budget for targeted military operations required to dislodge the terrorists from northern Mali, the report recommended that the Security Council set down "benchmarks" the African-led forces and Malians must meet before they are permitted to commence military operations. The benchmarks would include "positive developments in the political process...and the effective training of military and police personnel of both the support mission and the Malian forces in their obligations under international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law." The UN should then send in a "sufficient number" of human rights observers to monitor "strict adherence to international humanitarian and human rights law" by the Malian forces and their allies.
In other words, the United Nations' top leader Ban Ki-moon is recommending that the Malians defending their own country with the help of their neighbors against a foreign invasion by the world's worst specimens of human rights abusers must first prove to the UN that they have their own house in order before they can repel the jihadist invaders. Second, the Malians and their allies must effectively pass a human rights certification course and then show that they will play by the rules flouted by the terrorists, all under the watchful eyes of UN monitors for which, by the way, funding will somehow be made available even though there are evidently no monies in the vast UN budget that can be found to support the military operation itself.
The Malian representative, not surprisingly, had a very different take. She pleaded for military assistance to rid Mali of the jihadist scourge without delay. She mentioned several times that the terrorists occupying northern Mali are foreign. Mali is addressing its own human rights issues in dealing with ethnic minorities, she assured the Council, using what she described as "affirmative action" to integrate minorities into significant positions in government institutions. The process for holding credible elections is already underway, she added. Responding to those concerned about human rights violations in Mali, she declared that "the best way to preserve human rights" is to quickly set up an African-led military force with international backing that would "allow the Mali government to restore territorial integrity of the entire country."
Kaddre Ouedraogo, the president of ECOWAS and former Prime Minister of Burkina Faso, told the Security Council that "political dialogue must be combined with a military option to dismantle the terrorists." He called for the Security Council to pass a resolution by the end of this year under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter authorizing the use of military force against the terrorists.
The African Union representative Tete Antonio concurred, adding that past experience of the United Nations in Sudan and Somalia has shown the limitations of voluntary contributions to pay for the support of military operations. He wants funding to come through the UN assessed budget this time rather than have to pass the hat for voluntary contributions.
Where is the Obama administration regarding the Mali crisis? Leading from behind would be an overstatement. It is outsourcing the matter to the UN and to France.
As noted above, the UN is backing off from taking any direct role in dislodging the foreign jihadists, except as human rights trainer and monitor of the side that is trying to defend Malian civilians against the jihadist human rights abusers.
France once again is taking the lead among the Western members of the Security Council, as it did in the case of Libya and the Ivory Coast. French UN Ambassador Araud told reporters before the December 5th Security Council meeting that France was expecting passage by Christmas of a resolution authorizing the use of an African-led military force.
On the military front, a French defense official was quoted in the Telegraph as saying that the U.S. "has conferred to us the role of leader" in the crisis. France is reportedly planning to send in surveillance drones and has special forces in the region.
Concern for human rights and our national interest converge in northern Mali. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice has the opportunity to take the lead in fashioning and pushing through the Security Council a tough resolution that authorizes all necessary military action to end the al Qaeda occupation of northern Mali.
Mali wants our help. Their African neighbors want our help. If, as Hillary Clinton has indicated, Mali-based extremists played a role in the September 11th attack in Benghazi, we also owe it to the memory of the four slain Americans to bring justice to the accomplices and to help prevent more such attacks using Mali as a launching pad. This means providing the funding and military support required by the African-led force to dislodge al Qaeda without further delay.
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