As noted on Reason 24/7, the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved a French-backed military intervention in Mali. The plan is for regional ECOWAS forces to enter in the north to quell a Tuareg rebellion turned Islamist insurgency. Al-Qaeda is, naturally, suspected of involvement.
Though the Tuareg are indigenous to northern Mali, where the insurgency is spreading, the country was considered by USAID as "one of the most enlightened democracies in Africa" as recently as earlier this year. The collapse of the Qaddafi regime in Libya, with help from the West, created an influx of Libyan Tuareg fighters, who Qaddafi had kept in his employ, as well as Islamists fresh from the experience of toppling a government in Tripoli. The Tuareg rebels in the north declared independence in April, a coup followed, and elections scheduled for later that month never happened.
As a former French colony, the situation in Mali's been closely monitored in France, where the recently elected Socialist president has been at the forefront of a push for military intervention, sending surveillance drones last month. France and the U.S. (because Al-Qaeda!) have also been pressuring Algeria to back an intervention in Mali. U.S. officials have been visiting all year long, with Hillary Clinton herself going in October.
While the U.S. is projecting a limited role in the now seemingly imminent intervention in Mali, it did confirm earlier this month that it was working closely with West African countries in planning the actual military operation. A few days later UN Ambassador Susan Rice reportedly told other UN-based officials the plans for intervention were "crap," the fear being the ECOWAS countries (led by Nigeria) did not have the military resources or experience for a successful intervention. The stage seems set for deeper involvement in a military intervention moving forward not just by France but also the U.S.