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Congressional Research Service: Crisis in Mali

Authors: Alexis Arieff, and Kelly Johnson
August 16, 2012

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The situation in Mali challenges U.S. goals of promoting stability, democracy, civilian control of the military, and effective counterterrorism in Africa, and raises questions regarding the strategic design and effectiveness of existing U.S. efforts to do so.

The West African country of Mali is mired in overlapping crises. A military coup overthrew Mali's democratically elected government in March 2012 and insurgent groups seized its vast and sparsely populated northern territory. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a regional criminal-terrorist network and U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, has expanded its presence in the north, along with two other radical Islamist organizations and the remnants of an ethnic Tuareg separatist group. The factors that drove these developments were complex; among them was the collapse of Muammar al Qadhafi's regime in Libya, which sparked the return of Tuareg combatants to Mali and a reported surge in regional weapons flows.

Congress influences U.S. policy toward Mali through the authorization and appropriation of foreign aid and through its oversight activities. The prospect of an expanded safe-haven for AQIM and other extremists and criminal actors in Mali is a principal concern of U.S. policymakers, as it presents a serious threat to regional security and, potentially, to Western targets and interests in the region. The United States and other international actors are also concerned about the humanitarian implications of the turmoil in Mali: the conflict in the north has displaced over 420,000 people and placed additional pressures on an already dire regional food security emergency. To date, the interim government and military remain in disarray, while political rivalry and limited capacity have hindered efforts to forge an effective regional response.

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