The Obama administration is considering logistical support for the French military campaign to help the Mali government combat al-Qaida-linked terrorists in a move that risks deepening American military involvement in Africa.
The United States first provided intelligence to support French airstrikes that began in mid-December as part of an international campaign to help the Mali government fight Islamist rebels who control the northern part of the country.
The conflict has escalated since then and spread to neighboring Algeria. Frances decision to send troops into Mali led to the seizure of 40 hostages, including American civilians at a gas field in Algeria by the terrorist group Al Qaida in the Islamic Magreb. The hostage taking ended with an Algerian raid that claimed the lives of several hostages.
Now, the Obama administration has agreed to airlift French troops and equipment to Mali. It was still considering Frances request to provided manned and unmanned surveillance planes and tankers to refuel French fighters. The United States has been flying surveillance flights in the region under a classified military program reported in the New York Times and Washington Post.
The administration has ruled out, at least for now, sending in U.S. troops to keep terrorists from developing another safe haven in Africa as they did in Afghanistan to use in plots against the United States and other countries.
France, though, is a lesson in what could happen with even restrained involvement. It is increasing its troop level with plans to deploy up to 1,400 soldiers and possibly as many as 2,500. Other African and European Union troops are expected to arrive in Mali as well.
But it is not just North Africa that is seeing a slow escalation of Americas role. American troops were sent to Turkey earlier this month to man Patriot missiles to protect the country, a NATO ally, from possible Syrian attacks for Turkish support of Syrian rebels.
The administration has also ruled out ground troops in that conflict too, but Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said they could be sent in if there is a peaceful transition to help secure Syrias chemical weapons. He did not say what might happen if Ameicans were killed.
The United States cannot retreat from its global role, which it can meet with a supporting role. The administration is taking the right approach in letting other nations take the lead. It has to resist demands that will put American troops at risk and draw the United States into another regional conflict as Americans await the return of troops from Afghanistan.