The western media especially in the United States, tell us that North African states are at risk of being overrun by al-Qaeda and its affiliated Islamic fundamentalist organisations. The possibility of an African military force helping to protect Western Europe against jihadist attacks from North Africa and the US fight its Global War on Terror (GWT) is becoming increasingly likely.
Al-Qaeda and its surrogates, we are told by the Western media, are poised to overrun several North African and Middle Eastern states.
Mali, Mauritania and Niger have seen a steady escalation of al-Qaeda activity. Libya is still at the mercy of al-Qaeda linked jihadists where a recent attack on the US consulate in Benghazi killed the ambassador and three of his colleagues.
Somalia has disintegrated while in Yemen, across the Red Sea, security forces are struggling to keep fundamentalists and jihadists at bay.
As a result, the real danger, we are told, lies in the creation of terrorist safe havens in the Maghreb from which attacks can be launched on the Europe and the US.
Western intelligence services have already cautioned that hundreds of US and United Kingdom citizens have been recruited by al-Qaeda and there is evidence that these recruits are preparing for attacks on the West.
Despite a consensus that al-Qaeda and the advance of its regional affiliates have been facilitated by their successful exploitation of the administrative weaknesses and corruption of the governments in North Africa, the international response under the tutelage of the US could not have been more predictable.
The most likely option will be a military one despite the fact that US military power in recent years has been remarkably discredited globally by far inferior forces. Driven by the ambitious GWT the military might of the US is overextended.
US policy makers have, nevertheless, come to rely primarily on a military response to global problems, operating on some kind of militarised autopilot. This trend is set to continue irrespective of who wins next month’s presidential election.
In the Maghreb the action which the West took in Libya and Somalia seems most likely.
In what many would describe as an unprecedented level of international consensus in respect of the need for joint action in the Mali crisis, Western governments are collaborating to create an atmosphere conducive for a military option. Although it is still being downplayed as a last resort it appears inevitable.
France, with citizens taken hostage by Islamic fundamentalists and fearful of a radical enclave close to its shores, is becoming belligerent. Arguing that a 'second Afghanistan' cannot be allowed to take shape, the French government announced plans to move surveillance drones to the Sahel region to help any future intervention efforts.
Secret talks have been held with US officials on Mali after which Johnnie Carson, US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, said that military action to drive out Islamic extremists was inevitable. “There will have to be, at some point, military action,” Carson declared.
At the same time French President, Francois Hollande, called for an African-led military intervention in Mali “as quickly as possible” but ruled out sending French troops. The French President also engineered a United Nations vote to consider intervention in Mali while his defence minister recently said it was "a matter of weeks" before military action.
British Prime Minister David Cameron's special representative to the Sahel remarked with reference to Mali: "If we don't act, we send a message to all secessionist groups that the international community turns a blind eye to states within states. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is gaining capability and ambition and, if we don't act, there is a very real threat of further attacks in Africa and, eventually, Europe, the Middle East and beyond."
Ominously he also remarked that “[a]t this stage, I’m not going in with a closed mind to rule anything out. We (Britain) will do our best to play our part. I haven’t ruled anything out.”
This obviously includes military intervention.
The German government has also expressed increased wariness. Foreign Affairs Minister Guido Westerwelle echoes his Western colleagues saying, “If the north of Mali falls apart, if terrorist schools appear and a safe haven is created for terrorists worldwide, then it won’t just endanger Mali and the North African states, but it endangers us in Europe too.”
Westerwelle also said European foreign ministers will discuss options for supporting Mali at a meeting on 19 November but insisted that nations in Europe would not contribute troops or weapons. “Weapons deliveries to Mali are not up for debate.”
But Westerwelle’s assurance rings hollow and only helps to increase suspicion about the West’s real intent. Not only did France begin to resume arms delivery to Mali but the US is doing likewise in neighbouring Mauritania and Niger.
It appears as if a military intervention in Mali by African countries under a UN mandate is becoming increasingly likely. The responsibility of helping to protect western Europe against jihadist attacks from North Africa and helping the US fight its GWT will then become Africa’s problem.
On 12 October the UN Security Council, led by France, passed a resolution declaring its readiness to respond to Malian call for an international force and asked that a detailed plan be submitted in 45 days.
As many as 7000 – 10,000 soldiers may be needed with the majority provided by Mali and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). According to Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, recently elected African Union Commission chairperson, the organisation is finalising plans for a deployment of an African-led international force in Mali – similar to that used to battle al-Shabaab Islamists in Somalia – and paid for by Western governments.
If the US and its western allies play their cards right, Africa will be drawn into fronting up to extremists who have nowhere else to go and to whom it is a privilege to die for their cause. With western support and assistance the African interventionist force will eventually prevail but the cost for Africa will be high.