Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Al-Qa'ida is back in business

MILITARY intervention in the West African nation of Mali by France to thwart a rapid advance on the capital by al-Qa'ida-linked forces provides a telling counterpoint to Barack Obama's announcement of accelerated US troop withdrawals from Afghanistan.

It also prompts the disquieting thought that Mr Obama will not leave anything more than a token force after 2014.
Throughout the US presidential campaign, Mr Obama confidently told us that al-Qa'ida was "on the run". The speed with which al-Qa'ida surrogates overran more than two-thirds of Mali, an area the size of France, shows Mr Obama's optimism was not well-founded. French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian says the militant Islamists have moved to within a whisker of capturing the capital, Bamako. In less than a year, jihadist forces have turned much of what was once regarded as a rare bulwark of democracy in Africa into a new extremist stronghold. In a barbaric reminder of Afghanistan circa 2001, stonings and mutilation have been imposed under sharia.
After months of dithering by the UN Security Council and African nations, France, which has a large expatriate Malian population, decided that enough was enough; the terrorist advance in the heart of Africa, backed by fanatical Islamic fighters pouring in from neighbouring African states, Pakistan and Afghanistan and dark suggestions of involvement by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, posed an unacceptable threat to Europe. France now claims the jihadist advance has been checked. An African force tasked with recapturing areas under al-Qa'ida control is likely to be stretched in what will be a difficult battle.

Mr Obama should learn from Mali as he gives effect to his agreement with Hamid Karzai for an accelerated withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. Mr Obama's enthusiasm to bring his troops home quickly is understandable - his nation has paid a heavy price - but the withdrawal must be measured rather than hasty and he should heed the Pentagon's advice and leave at least 20,000 troops beyond 2014 to deal with any new threat. The suggestion that this could be whittled down to 3000, or even a "zero option", leaving the inexperienced Afghan forces to keep order, is alarming. Mali shows the speed with which the jihadists exploit a power vacuum.

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