US military planners prepare to support a multi-national African force to intervene in northern Mali - in an attempt to roll back al-Qaeda in the region.
"There really is no case where it wouldn't do more harm than good, but we are talking a choice of evils at this point .... Leaving the area alone is not an option .... I think the international community is getting a little too caught up in the prospect of what they would do on the ground in two years, with ECOWAS of course carrying it out .... Well, we are treating the patient, how do we keep the contagion from spreading all over the operating table?"
- Paul Mutter, an international affairs analyst
Pentagon officials are working with African nations ahead of possible international military action against al-Qaeda-linked groups in northern Mali.
The Obama administration, however, says US involvement will be limited to helping with military planning, working alongside partners in ECOWAS, the 15-member Economic Community of West African States, and the African Union.
There has been growing international concern over Mali’s north, an area the size of Texas, which was taken by islamic fighters following a coup in Mali earlier this year.
Those fighters are also said to have close links with the Boko Haram separatist group, which has been blamed for violence in Nigeria.
Earlier this week, however, the top US commander in Africa warned against premature military action. Army General Carter Ham said that an immediate intervention would be likely to fail and set back the situation "even further".
So, is a military intervention necessary in northern Mali?
Joining Inside Story Americas to discuss this is Nii Akuetteh, an independent Africa policy analyst, who testified at the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing about a possible intervention in Mali on Wednesday; and Paul Mutter, an international affairs analyst and fellow at Truthout.org.
"To me Mali seems to be on fire, so it's months of letting the fire burn. And the US and the international community need to give moral and legal and technical support to the Africans so that they can end that fire .... I am the first to say no US intervention, no US boots on the ground, but to be realistic the Africans need help and they also don't want to do it illegally , so they want the UN to say this is within international law but they need support .... The goal is to eject the terrorists who are brutalising northern Mali and causing chaos and it's in the West's interest .... Let's deal with it before it gets much worse."
Nii Akuetteh, an independent Africa policy analyst
What does the Senate's disabilities vote say about US politics?
This week, the US Senate failed to ratify a UN treaty that aims to set an international standard on the rights of disabled people. The 38 'no' votes - all from Republican senators - were cast although the treaty is based on existing US legislation.
"I think what it comes down to is partisan politics and a broad antipathy towards the United Nations on the part of a right-wing of the Republican party."
- Eric Rosenthal, the executive director of Disability Rights International
It was negotiated under Republican President George W Bush and backed by GOP big names such as Bob Dole and John McCain. It has been signed in 155 countries and ratified in 126 including Britain, France, China and Russia.
But the Republican right argued that it impinged on US sovereignty.
For example, opponents said it would take away parents' right to home-school disabled children. Some even argued it might lead to the forced sterilisation of the disabled.
Democratic Senator John Kerry called it one of the saddest days in his 28-year senate career. And it has led to questions as to whether President Barack Obama's proposal for a bipartisan "grand bargain" with Republicans is advisable if they continue to cling on to extreme right-wing orthodoxy.
So what does the Senate disabilities vote say about US politics and the current political atmosphere?
Inside Story Americas discusses with guests: Eric Rosenthal, the executive director of Disability Rights International; and Alex Kane, a world editor with Alternet.org.
"There is a lot of conspiracy thinking on the right about the United Nations. This notion that the UN is bent on taking over the world and taking over the American government .... I think principles should come first on budgets or on disabilities, we should be talking about rights, we should be talking about the poor in the country .... There should be a question of should we be compromising with extreme right-wing politicians."
Alex Kane, an editor with Alternet.org