The US and the international community are debating how to intervene in war-torn Mali. But over the past decade, the US has already been heavily involved.
When Mali received mentions in the final US presidential debate on foreign policy, some pundits began to ask if the landlocked West African nation would become a new focus of American anti-terror efforts. In actuality, the US has already been heavily engaged in counterterrorism activities in this part of Africa for the past decade, and the nature of this engagement has long been a subject of internal debate.
Since 2002, the US government has plowed at least $700 million in counterterrorism funding into Africa's Sahel, a large swathe of semi-arid territory on the southern edge of the Sahara desert. Mali was a key recipient, taking in approximately $60 million since 2002 from the US. Though exact dollar amounts are hard to pinpoint due to the sensitive nature of some activities, many analysts believe that both figures are probably much higher.
The money was supposed to boost the capacity of governments to respond to the challenges posed by terrorism and organized crime across the Sahel. In Mali, that effort received a setback in March when Mali's US-backed military turned its guns away from the Islamic militants in the country’s north and toppled the US-allied government in Bamako. Since the coup d'etat, US aid has been suspended due to legal restrictions barring US foreign assistance to the government of any country in which the military has overthrown a democratically elected government.
As the US mulls its position on military intervention in Mali and looks to continue shoring up other governments in the Sahel, the debate over how best to use aid in the region has grown sharper.