How many wars are we now engaged in? Gizmode has a handy map, with various categories (piracy, insurgency, ground conflict, etc.). The U.S. is heavily involved in almost every one of them, either by funding, active intervention via drones, or actual troops on the ground, as they say. There may be as many as 74 wars we are involved in overtly, with numerous covert operations in many other countries.
Mali is one of the Sahel nations, the Sahel being a region where the temperate part of Africa transitions into the Sahara desert. These countries range from Mauritania in the west across the continent, through Mali, Niger, and Chad, eventually reaching Sudan. The countries are all quite poor, and the desert portions are sparsely populated. Governments in this region are weak and corrupt when they are not dictatorships.
Look carefully at the image at right. The State Department supplied the body armor and the helmets for these Mali troops. But the desert camouflage pattern of the body armor does not match the green camouflage of the uniforms and the vehicles. Compare the fully matched desert uniforms of the Navy Seals in the foreground. This unit, supposedly one of special forces, was intended in operate in the greener areas of southern Mali; the U.S. effort appears to have been to extend the war-fighting ability of the Mali army to the desert regions.
The European-drawn boundaries in the central Sahara mean little or nothing to the nomadic native peoples, of whom the best known westerners is the Tuareg nation. Mali had been one of the more stable and democratic countries in Africa until early 2012 when a rebellion broke out in the northern part of the country, led in part by Taureg groups and part by persons linked to Al-Qaeda. This rebellion, fueled in part by the ready availability of military supplies left in Libya by the collapse of the Qaddafi regime, led to a coup in Mali as well as military intervention by the French, supported by the U.S.
Supposedly the U.S. involvement in Mali is limited. But in January, Wired magazine noted that although the Pentagon's chief spokesman had denied that the U.S. had then any plans for "boots on the ground" operations
... [Pentagon spokeman] Little wasn’t speaking to any possible CIA involvement in Mali; it’s worth noting that the CIA has placed operatives on the ground in places where the U.S. has publicly stated it wouldn’t send ground troops.The wars of empire require that there is a public denial of "boots on the ground" -- the empire cannot justify such involvement, with the risk of U.S. casualties, to the public at home, while CIA-backed local forces, aided by drones and perhaps special forces operate in the twilight.
The Sahel countries have also been traditionally an area where France intervened at will, although always (at least since the 1956 Suez crisis) with the tacit approval of the U.S. The proximity of these countries to the oil fields in Algeria and Libya, as well as the presence of a rather shadowy movement called Al Qaeda in the Magreb forms the primary justification for our involvement in the region.
It is curious that we have assumed the role of the French Empire in the Sahel and the Magreb, much as we took over the role of the British empire in the tribal areas of Pakistan, which were once known as the Northwest Provinces of India, and also in the Persian Gulf.
A few days ago, I heard of another drone strike in Wazirastan which killed 17 people. I recall thinking -- are these people the enemies of the United States? Are they my enemies? Supposedly they are members of the Haqqani network, a long-standing organization which was backed by the CIA when the Soviets attempted to take over Afghanistan. They are reported to favor imposition of Sharia law, which is not all that different from the "mainstream" legal regime in our supposed ally, Pakistan.
Ultimately where is this all headed? The entire vast enterprise is not financed by exceptional taxes, there is a pretense that world-wide dominion can be purchased on the cheap. The wars seem to being waged not for any rational purpose, but simply for the point of waging war. Drone strikes in Wazirastan -- are those really necessary for the safety of the United States?
I am reminded of a passage from a famous work :
Once, I remember, we came upon a man-of-war anchored off the coast. There wasn't even a shed there, and she was shelling the bush. It appears the French had one of their wars going on thereabouts. Her ensign dropped limp like a rag; the muzzles of the long eight-inch guns stuck out all over the low hull; the greasy, slimy swell swung her up lazily and let her down, swaying her thin masts. In the empty immensity of earth, sky, and water, there she was, incomprehensible, firing into a continent. Pop, would go one of the eight-inch guns; a small flame would dart and vanish, a little white smoke would disappear, a tiny projectile would give a feeble screech—and nothing happened. Nothing could happen. There was a touch of insanity in the proceeding, a sense of lugubrious drollery in the sight; and it was not dissipated by somebody on board assuring me earnestly there was a camp of natives—he called them enemies!—hidden out of sight somewhere.
"We gave her her letters (I heard the men in that lonely ship were dying of fever at the rate of three a day) and went on.