ACTION ALERT: No US War or Drones in Mali

January 21st, 2013 - by admin

Just Foreign Policy – 2013-01-21 00:56:43

ACTION ALERT: Back the White House: No US War in Mali
Robert Naiman /

(January 20, 2013) — The Los Angeles Times reported Friday evening [1] that the Pentagon is putting pressure on the White House for significant US military intervention in Mali.

So far, the White House is resisting this pressure.

The last thing we need is another war. Help us help the White House push back against the Pentagon’s pressure for a new war by writing to Congress here:

Here are some issues at stake:

* As the Washington Post reported, [2], many of the people the French are fighting in northern Mali are people who have longstanding grievances against the central government of Mali, but are not a threat to the United States.

* if the Pentagon makes war with such people, their families, and their neighbors, then the Pentagon is making new enemies for the United States.

* because these fighters aren’t a threat to the United States, the Pentagon has no legal authority from Congress to attack them. A US combat operation against them in Mali without Congressional authorization would violate the War Powers Resolution passed after the Vietnam War to make sure Congress and the public participate in a decision to go to war.

* Since fighting these people would have nothing to do with Al Qaeda or the September 11 attacks, US military action in Mali can’t be justified under the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force after the September 11 attacks. [3]

* US military aid to the current government of Mali is prohibited by US law, because the government of Mali seized power in a coup. [4]

* US officials have publicly discussed sending armed drones to Mali to conduct drone strikes. [5] This could expand the drone war to a new country, without any Congressional or public discussion having taken place.

* Members of Congress will soon be negotiating again over the possibility of further budget cuts. Republicans will be arguing for further cuts to domestic spending, including Social Security and Medicare benefits. Democrats will be pushing for cuts to a Pentagon budget that Secretary of Defense-designate Chuck Hagel has called “bloated.” If we start a new war, that’s going to make it much harder to cut the Pentagon budget, and that would increase pressure for domestic cuts.

Let’s slow down the Pentagon’s rush to a new war, the way the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution envisioned, by making sure there is Congressional and public debate before we start any new war. Please write your Representative and Senators now.

No US Drone Strikes in Mali Without Congressional Approval

France has undertaken a major military campaign in Mali. Some US officials are talking about the possibility of supporting the French military campaign with US drone strikes. The Los Angeles Times reports that the Pentagon is pressing for greater US military involvement, but the White House is resisting.

Congress hasn’t authorized US military intervention in Mali. In particular, Congress hasn’t authorized US drone strikes in Mali.

Urge your Representative and Senators to publicly insist that the Pentagon obtain explicit Congressional authorization before conducting drone strikes in Mali, by using the form below.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director for Just Foreign Policy

1. “Mali Conflict Exposes White House-Pentagon Split,” David S. Cloud, Shashank Bengali and Ken Dilanian, Los Angeles Times, January 18, 2013. [See story below.]

2. “US Weighs Military Support for France’s Campaign against Mali Militants,” Anne Gearan, Karen DeYoung and Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, January 15, 2013.

3. “Sept. 11 Authorization Not Applicable to Mali,” Robert Naiman, Letter to the Editor, Washington Post, January 18,

4. “US weighs military support for France’s campaign against Mali militants,” Op cit.

5. “US weighs military support for France’s campaign against Mali militants,” Op cit. Civic Action sponsors, but does not endorse specific campaigns or the contents of this message.

Mali Conflict Exposes
White House-Pentagon Split

Officials disagree on the degree of danger posed by Islamist militants in West Africa. Some top US military officials warn aggressive action is needed.

David S. Cloud, Shashank Bengali and Ken Dilanian / Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON (January 18, 2013) — The widening war in Mali has opened divisions between the White House and the Pentagon over the danger posed by a mix of Islamist militant groups, some with murky ties to Al Qaeda, that are creating havoc in West Africa.

Although no one is suggesting that the groups pose an imminent threat to the United States, the French military intervention in Mali and a terrorist attack against an international gas complex in neighboring Algeria have prompted sharp Obama administration debate over whether the militants present enough of a risk to US allies or interests to warrant a military response.

Some top Pentagon officials and military officers warn that without more aggressive US action, Mali could become a haven for extremists, akin to Afghanistan before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Militants in Mali, “if left unaddressed, … will obtain capability to match their intent — that being to extend their reach and control and to attack American interests,” Army Gen. Carter Ham, head of the US Africa Command, said in an interview.

But many of Obama’s top aides say it is unclear whether the Mali insurgents, who include members of the group Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, threaten the US

Those aides also worry about being drawn into a messy and possibly long-running conflict against an elusive enemy in Mali, a vast landlocked country abutting the Sahara desert, just as US forces are withdrawing from Afghanistan.

“No one here is questioning the threat that AQIM poses regionally,” said an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity when discussing internal deliberations. “The question we all need to ask is, what threat do they pose to the US homeland? The answer so far has been none.”

Another US official, who is regularly briefed on such intelligence, said the groups’ goals were often hard to distinguish.

“AQIM and its allies have opportunistic criminals and smugglers in their midst, but they also have some die-hard terrorists with more grandiose visions,” the official said. “In some cases, the roles may overlap.”

The internal debate is one reason for a delay in US support for the French, who airlifted hundreds of troops into Mali last weekend and launched airstrikes in an effort to halt the militants from pushing out of their northern stronghold toward Bamako, the Malian capital.

The Pentagon is planning to begin ferrying additional French troops and equipment to Mali in coming days aboard US Air Force C-17 cargo jets, according to Air Force Maj. Robert Firman, a Pentagon spokesman.

Military planners are still studying the airport runways in Bamako to determine whether they can handle the huge C-17s. If not, they will land elsewhere and the French troops will be flown into Mali on smaller aircraft. French officials have asked the US to transport an armored infantry battalion of 500 to 600 soldiers, plus vehicles and other equipment.

The US is also providing France with surveillance and other intelligence on the militants.

But the administration has so far balked at a French request for tanker aircraft to provide in-air refueling of French fighter jets because the White House does not yet want to get directly involved in supporting French combat operations, officials said.

US officials have ruled out putting troops on the ground, except in small numbers and only to support the French.

“I think the US ambivalence about moving into Mali is very understandable,” said Richard Barrett, a former British diplomat who serves as United Nations counter-terrorism coordinator. Noting the instances where US forces have been drawn into conflict with Islamic militants, he said, “Why would they want another one, for God’s sake? It’s such a difficult area to operate in.”

After 2001, Washington tried to tamp down Islamic extremism in Mali under a counter-terrorism initiative that combined anti-poverty programs with training for the military. The US aid was halted, however, when military officers overthrew the government last March in a violent coup.

Gen. Ham has warned for months that AQIM was growing stronger and intended to carry out attacks in the region and elsewhere. To combat the threat, some officers favor building closer ties with governments in the region and boosting intelligence-gathering and special operations.

But other administration officials question the need for a bigger US effort.

Johnnie Carson, who heads the Africa bureau at the State Department, told Congress in June that AQIM “has not demonstrated the capability to threaten US interests outside of West or North Africa, and it has not threatened to attack the US homeland.”

The September attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, has provided fodder for both sides: AQIM members participated, US intelligence officials have said, but the US has found no evidence the attack was ordered or planned by AQIM.

A rebellion last year by ethnic Tuareg in northern Mali paved the way for AQIM and allied groups, including the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, known by its French acronym MUJAO, to seize Mali’s northern half.

US officials say the Islamist groups have used the Texas-sized area to establish training camps, recruit fighters from African and European nations, including France, and strengthen ties with other African extremist groups.

A US intelligence official said the militant groups’ “limited people and expertise” require them to focus most of their effort on holding the territory they’ve seized. But over time, the official said, the groups’ growth could threaten other nations in the region.

“They have to train these guys, provide these guys with skills,” the official said, referring to foreign recruits. “At some point down the road, they will probably go back home, and that increases the threat in those home countries.”

The militant groups “all appear to me to be essentially criminal networks based on kidnapping and smuggling … having little to do with Islam or with the remnants of Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan,” said John Campbell, a former US ambassador to Nigeria now at the Council on Foreign Relations.

French officials have depicted their intervention as a stop-gap move until an African military force of 3,300 is ready to train the Malian army and help it recapture territory from the rebels. The United Nations endorsed the mission in December, and the first soldiers arrived in Mali this week, but African officials have said it could take several months or the forces to begin operations.

Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times

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