BAMAKO, Mali -- Al-Qaida-linked Islamist groups took control of northern Mali earlier this year, prompting concerns that the vast desert expanse could become a jihadist safe haven. Since then, U.S. policymakers have openly entertained the possibility of kinetic operations, such as drone strikes in northern Mali, and pundits are asking if the landlocked West African nation now constitutes a new front in the war on terror.
Largely overlooked in this discussion, however, is the fact that United States has been heavily engaged in counterterrorism activities in this part of Africa for more than a decade -- an engagement that has long been the subject of external criticism and internal debate.
At the center of the debate is the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP), the principal framework for U.S. engagement in Mali since 2005. TSCTP is an interagency, State Department-led successor to the Office of Counterterrorism’s 2002 to 2004 Pan-Sahel Initiative. It is supported by the Department of Defense through Operation Enduring Freedom -- Trans Sahara, officially described as “the U.S. government's regional war on terrorism operation.”