The war rages about cities with names such as Goa and Timbuktu, in a sparsely populated, mostly flat, dusty and landlocked country in northwest Africa.
The combatants include a nomadic Berber people known as Tuareg, the French Foreign Legion and a coalition of al Qaida affiliates who identify themselves with the Maghreb, the desert region of Northwestern Africa.
It sounds as if it could be the plot for a new Indiana Jones adventure. But those who study international terrorism say it would be a mistake for Americans to think of this conflict as anything but deadly serious. The war in Mali is the new front in the war on international terrorism.
Some U.S. officials have downplayed the threat, noting in congressional testimony that those involved in Mali don’t appear capable of striking outside West and North Africa.
But in some ways, what’s happening in Mali reminds experts of events in another little-known, faraway land in the latter half of the 1990s: Afghanistan. Back then, a fledgling al Qaida, though already a known threat, was using remote terrain to train a generation of elite terrorist fighters. The threat of those fighters was that once trained, they were disappearing to await plans and opportunities to strike at the hated West.
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