Later this week, Malians will go to the polls in the first national elections since a coup last year. The coup inspired a violent, al Qaeda led insurgency that gripped most of the northern part of the country until a French-led international force repelled the militants.
Now, a UN Peacekeeping mission is on the way to Mali to help provide security as the country recovers from this conflict. This is a complex peacekeeping mission that will exist at the intersection of counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism and traditional nation-building work. For the USA, success of this mission would mean that a lawless area once ruled by Al Qaeda-linked terrorist groups would be subdued.
It will be a tough mission. And success is not assured. One key hurdle is the uncertainty of whether or not the USA will pay for this mission on time and in full. The USA is assessed 28% of the cost of this mission, but the mission is just getting off the ground in the middle of a fraught US budget battle. It’s funding status is very much in the air.
A budget passed along partisan lines by the House State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee seriously slashes all foreign affairs funding and does not provide for additional funding for the new Mali mission. Thankfully, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday sought to correct that by passing a budget that included a new $575 million Complex Foreign Crises Fund, a portion of which would be used to fund the Mali mission. The full Senate bill would fund foreign affairs to the tune of $50.594 billion for FY2014. This includes nearly full funding of US commitments to the UN and humanitarian agencies, which support the Mali mission among others.
Given the widening American focus on counter-terrorism in Sahel, it would be behoove Congress to get on board with funding this mission. Al Qaeda thrives in a security vacuum. Not approving this budget could seriously impede the launch of the Peacekeeping mission and the promise of law and order that it would provide.