Sheldon Richman explains why it could be a problem if the American presence in northwestern Africa is further expanded:
Ominously but unsurprisingly, the U.S. military’s Africa Command wants to increase its footprint in northwest Africa. What began as low-profile assistance to France’s campaign to wrest control of northern Mali (a former colony) from unwelcome jihadists could end up becoming something more.
The Washington Post reports that Africom “is preparing to establish a drone base in northwest Africa [probably Niger] so that it can increase surveillance missions on the local affiliate of Al Qaeda and other Islamist extremist groups that American and other Western officials say pose a growing menace to the region.” But before that word “surveillance” can bring a sigh of relief, the Post adds, “For now, officials say they envision flying only unarmed surveillance drones from the base, though they have not ruled out conducting missile strikes at some point if the threat worsens.”
Meanwhile Bloomberg, citing American military officials, says Niger and the U.S. government have “reached an agreement allowing American military personnel to be stationed in the West African country and enabling them to take on Islamist militants in neighboring Mali, according to U.S. officials.… No decision has been made to station the drones.”
The irony is that surveillance drones could become the reason the “threat worsens,” and could provide the pretext to use drones armed with Hellfire missiles — the same kind used over 400 times in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, killing hundreds of noncombatants. Moving from surveillance to lethal strikes would be a boost for jihadist recruiters.
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Robert Fulford on the religious strife in Mali:
In the modern West, an iconoclast is someone who criticizes cherished beliefs. The people we call iconoclasts deal in nothing more dangerous than opinion. But in regions dominated by Islamists that term becomes painfully literal.
It means breaking icons — destroying sculpture and desecrating tombs for the purpose of religious purity. It means gangs of thugs with axes and dynamite and the need to impose their beliefs on others.
This week the world learned that iconoclasm has found a new home in the wretched African state of Mali. A landlocked, geographically misshapen nation of 14.5 million, Mali has borders with seven other countries. At the moment, Malian refugees are crossing three of those borders (Mauritania’s, Niger’s and Burkina Faso’s) to escape the results of the Islamist rebellion that overturned their national government in March.
The dominant rebels belong to Ansar Dine, which means “Defenders of the Faith.” They are Sunnis allied with al-Qaeda. They now control northern Mali and they have put the destruction of graves and monuments at the top of their agenda.
In the last week or so they have destroyed six graves of ancient Sufi saints. At a 15th-century mosque in Timbuktu they took their axes to an entrance considered sacred. According to local belief, it was expected the door would remain closed till the world ended.
This is a Muslim vs. Muslim conflict. A spokesman for Ansar Dine summarized the party line on venerating Sufi shrines: It’s un-Islamic. “What doesn’t correspond to Islam, we are going to correct.” It’s what must be done to defend the faith.
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