As the names of the Benghazi whistleblowers are being revealed, prior to their testimony before Congress this coming week, things are beginning to stir a bit in war-torn Mali. Barack Obama informed Congress back in February that he had deployed US troops to Niger to assist French forces in neighboring Mali. Now, he is sending more troops there.
The Washington Post reports,
About 10 U.S. military personnel are in Mali to provide "liaison support" to French and African troops but are not engaged in combat operations, said Lt. Col. Robert Firman, a Pentagon spokesman. Twelve others are assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Bamako, the capital, he added.
The Pentagon had previously said that it had no intention of sending troops to Mali and that it would involve itself in the conflict only at arm's length — by providing aerial refueling to French warplanes and sharing intelligence with allies. It also said that it would ferry soldiers from neighboring African countries to Mali on U.S. troop transport planes but that the aircraft would not remain in the country.
"There is no consideration of putting any American boots on the ground at this time," Leon E. Panetta, then the secretary of defense, said Jan. 15, a few days after France intervened militarily in Mali to prevent Islamist fighters from taking control of the country.
I wrote back at the end of January informing you that the US was ready to supply $96 million in the Mali effort and put boots on the ground, at that time, for limited support of transport and intelligence assistance.
However, it was also being reported that the US military was also planning to set up a drone base in northwest Africa, near Mali. That project alone would mean that at least 300 US military service members and contractors would be required to operate the drone aircraft.
While thousands of troops from France have been in Mali since late January, we have heard from the Obama administration that "there is no consideration of putting boots on the ground" in Mali.
New York Amsterdam News draws a parallel between Vietnam and what is taking place in Mali. Herb Boyd writes:
Some Americans remember when President John F. Kennedy promised not to get involved in the war in Vietnam, but in 1961, more than a thousand advisors were dispatched to South Vietnam to help the South Vietnamese army. This was a secret operation and not made known to the public because it breached the 1954 Geneva Agreement.
Lt. Col. Robert Firman, a Pentagon spokesperson, said the troops will not be engaged in combat operations, but that's exactly what the government said in 1961.
When Adm. William H. McRaven, head of the U.S. Special Operations Command, was asked at a recent Armed Services Committee hearing if his troops were coordinating their efforts with the French military, he refused to elaborate on their mission in Mali. As early as last year, there were reports that France would be removing many of the 4,000 troops in Mali and possibly be replaced by U.N. Forces or, more forebodingly, by U.S. Special Forces in the same way the U.S. replaced the French in Vietnam.
The Washington Post adds, "The Obama administration has been prohibited by U.S. law from giving military aid to Mali since March 2012, when its democratically elected president was ousted in a coup. U.S. officials said they are legally permitted, however, to help French troops and forces from other African countries fighting in Mali."
"Since the coup," the WP article continues, "there have been signs that some U.S. Special Operations forces have been deployed to Mali on undeclared missions. In April 2012, three U.S. soldiers were killed in a mysterious car crash in Bamako."
America's presence in Africa is huge already. The map below, provided by Foreign Policy, shows the US military's presence on the continent. The article also has several aerial photos of US drone bases as well.
View U.S. military presence in Africa in a larger map
John Reed points out:
The United States may be deploying 10 additional troops to Mali, but that's just a drop in the bucket of the U.S. military's presence in Africa, which has been quietly building for the last decade. You've probably heard about the 2,000-troop hub at Camp Lemmonier, Djibouti, and the 100 special operators hunting Joseph Kony. But less is known about the handful of U.S. drone bases scattered across the continent and the dozens of exercises involving hundreds, if not thousands, of American troops (Click the placemarks on the map above for a quick description of what U.S. troops are doing in each country.)
A quick look at exercises and other activities conducted by U.S. Africa Command this spring alone reveals a U.S. military presence in more than a dozen countries -- from Cape Verde in the West to the Seychelles in the East and Morocco in the North. These exercises have shared medical techniques with the Nigerian military, provided intelligence training in Congo, trained special operators in Cameroon, and even included an East African Special Operations Conference in Zanzibar.
Just look at the U.S. Army's page on Africa to find even more examples of soldiers deploying to Africa.
Are we about to start engaging in another war to keep Benghazi out of the media spotlight? That seemed to work for one William Jefferson Clinton as I recall.