Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Here's Some Money, Now Make The Problem Go Away

The US has agreed to supply military equipment to the army of Mali in north Africa, to help them fight Islamist extremists. The Malians are getting about five million dollars worth of stuff, in addition to assistance already being offered by neighbouring Algeria and Libya. They're up against a group calling itself Al Qaeda In The Islamic Maghreb, which has carried out dozens of attacks in the area over the last couple of years, including the capture and murder of Briton Edwin Dyer.

If five million dollars doesn't sound like a lot to you, well, you're right, it's not. Or at least it isn't that much in the context of global military resources. The reason the US doesn't feel the need to break the bank to help is that this particular wing of Al Qaeda is small, with maybe only a few hundred members at most. It emerged from the a much larger force of Algerian Islamists which spent most of the 90s fighting a civil war in that country, after a Muslim party was denied certain victory in an election by government chicanery.

That conflict died down years ago, but the radical strain of Islam has lived on through this small group of extremists, who allied themselves to Al Qaeda in 2007. This was basically an attempt to make themselves look big and important, in the hope they'd get more money and assistance from other Islamists elsewhere in the world. It's possible that this has actually happened, because the group has been able to carry out the odd notable terrorist incident since then. This is what has got America's attention.

You might wonder why the US would bother sending any money at all to deal with such an apparently insignificant enemy, so far away from home. Yet Washington knows it's just possible an American citizen or citizens could end up suffering the same fate as Edwin Dyer, and doesn't want to take the chance. By giving Mali money and equipment only, the US is accepting none of the risk of the security operation, but should get the reward that at least an attack against Americans becomes a more remote possibility. To the folks in the State Department, that's well worth five million dollars.


laurie said...

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