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Editorial: France takes a lead against terrorists in Mali

French troops arrive at Bamako's airport Thursday Jan.

French troops arrive at Bamako's airport Thursday Jan. 17, 2013. Over 600 soldiers arrived Thursday. Fighting raged in one Mali town, airstrikes hit another and army troops raced to protect a third, on the seventh day of the French-led military intervention to wrest back Mali's north from al Qaida-linked groups. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) Credit: AP Photo Jerome Delay

Americans are taken hostage and another nation emerges as a haven for Islamic terrorists. We have seen this script before.

Information is sketchy about yesterday's attempt to rescue hostages taken by Islamic radicals at a remote gas plant in Algeria. At one point, the hostages were said to include as many as seven Americans.

Sadly, there is now yet another obscure nation that demands the attention of the U.S. government and public. That place is Mali, a dirt-poor desert country in North Africa. It has fallen into chaos since elements within the military ousted the elected government last March. Exploiting the resulting lawlessness, Islamic rebels in the north launched a military campaign for control of the country. France invaded last Friday to repel their advance south.

The hostages were taken in neighboring Algeria by radicals reportedly angry that France was allowed to use that nation's airspace to fly warplanes and military equipment into Mali. They demanded that France end its intervention. So Mali has now become a hot spot in the war on terror.

The United States helped train Mali's military before the coup. Afterward, it joined other Western nations in pushing for an all-Africa force to wage the battle for Mali. But French officials, concerned that al-Qaida-inspired terrorists based in Mali would attempt attacks inside France, plunged into the fray last Friday with airstrikes and ground forces. That aggressive response by a nation other than the United States to a terrorist threat arising from within a failed state is a positive development.

The United States shouldn't always bear the heaviest burden in the war on terror. Terrorism is like a low-grade fever. Ignore it and it can kill you -- but you shouldn't overreact. That's a good approach for the United States in situations such as the one in Mali.

Terrorists must be confronted and contained. But how that's done should be carefully calibrated.