Touareg rebels join forces in northern Mali, December 5, 2012 (Photo by Magharebia)

France and eight other countries, including the United States, are escalating an intervention in the African country of Mali. The offensive, according to French authorities, is being mounted to target Islamic extremists or al Qaeda-linked rebels who have “grabbed more territory in Mali, inching closer to the capital.”

CBS News reported the ”United States is providing communications and transport help for an international military intervention aimed at wresting Mali’s north out of the hands of Islamist extremists.” Though the mission is taking place in a “lawless desert in weakly governed country,” French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said the operation was “gaining international backing. The US was providing communications and transportation support.

On January 12, “US officials” told CBS “they had offered to send drones to Mali.” Drones excel in weakly governed and lawless deserts and lawless parts of countries it seems such parts are where the US likes to use drones the most.

The Wall Street Journal reported, “France asked Washington late last week to deploy unmanned aerial drones and aircraft that could be used to refuel French fighter planes in the air. Paris also asked the US to provide satellite imagery and share intercepts of militants’ communications.”

According to WSJ, unnamed US officials told the newspaper the role of America “would be non-lethal in nature, focused on intelligence collection and providing other support to French and any allied African forces.” But drones were used to carry out strikes in Libya in 2011 and mission creep could easily lead to a situation where military drones were not just providing non-lethal tactical support to enable French military operations.”

Also, Tom Vanden Brook of USA TODAY reported, “US military warplanes assisted French forces battling Islamic extremists in two African countries over the weekend, according to the Pentagon, highlighting the growing threat of al Qaeda-linked terrorists in the region.” The US is apparently providing support for French troops in Somalia as well. (In fact, on Sunday, Obama submitted a statement to Congress briefing them on US military involvement in a failed French hostage rescue mission.)

The story from the WSJ noted the Obama administration is concerned about al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) “and its growing use of Mali’s north as a base for terrorism planning and training.”  US intelligence agencies apparently believe “AQIM-linked militants” took part in attacks on diplomatic and intelligence facilities in Benghazi, Libya. It added, “Officials have stopped short of directly fingering any specific militant leaders based in Mali,” but if there are leaders to strike, there will undoubtedly be support among the political class in Washington for using military equipment, including drones, to go after “militants.” And Obama could easily wind up getting the US involved to such an extent that he is exceeding his war powers but does not go to Congress for an authorization of war.

Much of the reason there is a crisis in Mali is a result of the United States. The US in the past years has attempted to fight Islamic extremism with intense counterterrorism efforts. As the New York Times detailed, “Commanders [Mali's] elite army units, the fruit of years of careful American training, defected when they were needed most — taking troops, guns, trucks and their newfound skills to the enemy in the heat of battle.”

…an American-trained officer overthrew Mali’s elected government, setting the stage for more than half of the country to fall into the hands of Islamic extremists. American spy planes and surveillance drones have tried to make sense of the mess, but American officials and their allies are still scrambling even to get a detailed picture of who they are up against…

The war in Libya has contributed to the escalating violence. Stephen Kinzer, a Boston University professor, wrote in July 2012:

…This catastrophe did not “just happen.” It is the direct result of an episode that may at first seem unrelated: the US-led intervention in Libya last year. Rarely in recent times has there been a more vivid example of how such interventions can produce devastating unexpected results.

Under the regime of Moammar Khadafy, who was killed during the Libyan war, a portion of the army was made up of Tuaregs. They are a nomadic people whose traditional homeland is centered in northern Mali. After Khadafy was deposed, they went home — armed with potent weaponry they brought from Libya. Seeking to press their case for a homeland in Mali, they quickly overran the lightly armed Malian army.

Into this upheaval stepped another group, shaped not by ethnicity but by devotion to an extreme form of Islam. It has attracted Al Qaeda militants from many countries, including Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, and Algeria. They seek to create a pure Muslim state — and are destroying mosques and Islamic monuments that they believe represent the wrong kind of Islam… [emphasis added]

The Times suggested the US does not favor France’s decision to mount a major Western military intervention. There are US officials who believe this “could rally jihadists around the world and prompt terrorist attacks as far away as Europe.” If this nightmare scenario is remotely possible, one would think you would not send support or engage in assistance as the US has already done.

In any case, President Barack Obama held a press conference this afternoon. He said nothing about it (even though NBC News sent a tweet that seemed to suggest it might come up during the conference). Reporters did not bother to ask about it either. No member of the press corps was concerned that another major Western military intervention destined to develop into a complete quagmire is now about to begin.