The U.N. Security Council gave its blessing this afternoon to Mali's transitional government and called on outside governments, particularly from Africa and Europe, to send military trainers to the troubled West African country as soon as possible to help counter Al Qaeda's influence and reassert government control over the country's northern territories.
The 15-nation council's action today stopped short of meeting earlier requests from Mali and other West African countries to authorize a full-scale military intervention force. But the resolution contains a lot of elements that will immediately deepen the role of outside powers in Mali and pave the way for a future intervention.
The United States has grown increasingly concerned about the threat posed by the presence of extremist groups in Mali, and is weighing the possibility of carrying out unilateral strikes against the militants or supporting regional military powers in confronting the groups, according to a report earlier this week in the Washington Post.
But Washington has taken a low-key approach to the U.N. deliberations, leaving it to France, the former colonial power in Mali, to chart the way forward in the U.N. Security Council. And it remained unclear whether the United States would send trainers to Mali.
Resolution 2071 -- which was passed under the Chapter 7 enforcement provision of the UN Charter--provides an open-ended invitation to outside powers to go into Mali to help the government confront local rebels and outside Islamic militants groups, including Ansar Dine and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
The council's action marked its most ambitious effort to date to address the security crisis in Mali, where a March military coup created a security vacuum in the north that has been filled by Tuareg separatists rebelling against years of discriminatory policies by the central government, and Islamic militants seeking to impose a harsh brand of Islamic law on towns in the north.
The resolution, which was drafted by Paris, aims to start a process of political talks between the government's military and civilians leaders and Tuareg rebels in the north. But it also demands that "all groups in the north of Mali cease all abuses of human rights abuses" and calls on them to "cut off all ties to terrorist organizations," including Al Qaeda, or face the possibility of targeted sanctions. It also insists that Mali's transitional government commit to credible elections and present "a detailed road map" on the country's democratic transition with "concrete steps and timelines."
The resolution also explicitly expresses the council's "readiness" to authorize a full-fledged intervention force for Mali, and instructs the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki moon to present the council within 45 days "with detailed and actionable recommendations" for such a force.
Still, U.N. diplomats said that hurdles to the establishment of such a force remain within the region, particularly from government's like Algeria, which fear that a U.N. forces would drive extremists from Mali onto their territory. They hope that a high level ministerial meeting in Bamako, Mali, next week will help bridge some of those differences and pave the way for broader regional agreement on an intervention force.
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Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.