As France continues airstrikes on the West African nation of Mali for the fifth straight day, William Cohen, former Defense Secretary during the Clinton Administration, gave Andrea Mitchell his analysis of the escalating situation. The airstrikes are aimed at routing Al-Qaeda linked rebels in the northern part of the country.
As Mitchell pointed out, the U.S. plans to provide some logistical support to the French to defeat an enemy that the United States previously armed and trained. Cohen commented on that reversal of alliances drawing a parallel between Mali and Afghanistan. “We armed the resistance there to satisfy our objectives at the time, and then that changed. So I think what we’ve seen is al Qaeda is like a cancer. It continues to metastasize,” said Cohen. “What takes place in Afghanistan, you help defeat it and to roll it back, it moves on to parts of Africa, now Mali. Now we have the French taking the lead with the United States saying, we’ll be helpful. But remember, the United States has been very careful about this.”
On the diplomatic front, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said that the U.S. “very much welcomes” the French military action in Mali and that it is “absolutely critical” to stop the offensive of terrorist groups toward southern Mali. Nuland said the French action came at the request of Mali’s government.
Any American involvement in Mali would be an auxiliary role backing up French troops, who are also calling on a pan-African military force to quell the uprising. Cohen said, “We’ll be supportive, communications, some transportation, certainly intelligence. But I have no doubt that the president is not thinking of putting troops on there. I don’t think that’s in the cards.”
That sentiment was stressed by current Defense secretary Leon Panetta Tuesday during a press conference in Lisbon. “There’s is no consideration to put any American boots on the ground at this time,” he said. “We have commended the French for this effort to try to go into Mali to stop the AQIM, these terrorists and members of Al Qaeda from being able to develop a base of operations in Mali.”
In a press briefing from Geneva, a spokesperson for the UN Refugee Agency, Adrian Edwards, said approximately 144,500 Malians have become refugees in neighboring countries.