By Konye Obaji Ori
The war on terror appears to have forced members of al Qaeda into Africa, and Mali especially, as intelligence reports continue to reveal that elaborate network of tunnels, trenches, shafts and ramparts now house the largest army of al Qaeda and its associates.
The establishment of an al Qaeda haven in northern Mali - along with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al Shabab in East Africa, and Boko Haram in Nigeria - could see the US military increasing its operations on the continent.
With caves being built in remote deserts serving as al Qaeda bases in the slopes and crags for its members, observers say northern Mali may now have enough military personnel and supplies, and topographical advantage to be another Afghanistan to US forces should they be engaged.
"Al-Qaeda never owned Afghanistan. They do own northern Mali," former United Nations diplomat Robert Fowler told reporters.
Like Afghanistan, Mali is plagued by poverty, budding political instability and an uncontrollable stream of arms, and trained forces preparing for global jihad. These factors along with the hostile nature of the Malian terrain could make anti-terrorists efforts as difficult as Afghanistan.
"There's no containment strategy for the Sahel, which runs from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea. One could come up with a conceivable containment strategy for the Swat Valley," Africa expert Peter Pham, an adviser to the U.S. military's African command center asserts.
The US forces cannot ignore the United Nations and African Union forces, who have in recent months registered successes in Somalia, another difficult terrain, nor the Economic Community of West African States.
But as the threat of military intervention sees the Jihadists' resolve to recruit new fighters hastened, questions over whether the US will engage with a limited presence of its military personnel to train and assist the militaries of African countries, or whether they will fully engage to counter the budding security threats from Mali have emerged.
In the search for Ugandan rebel leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, Joseph Kony, for example, commander of US forces for Africa, Army General Carter Ham told reporters that enabling the militaries of partner nations is a more effective approach than sending US forces to do the work. It is true that Kony and al Qaeda represent different levels of threat and confronting them requires different approaches.
Events in Mali call for a greater security focus on Africa from Mali, ECOWAS, AU, UN and the US. Al Qaeda in northern Mali and other region across Africa must be curtailed and one must expect joint military bases to be built near these regions. Currently, the US has only one permanent military base in Africa, in Djibouti, with about 2,000 American personnel.