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Los Angeles Times reports: "The Obama administration is preparing to ferry hundreds of additional French troops to the North African country of Mali, bolstering a rapidly evolving military campaign in the latest conflict with Al Qaeda affiliates."

French troops in Chad prepare to be airlifted into Mali yesterday. (photo: Nicolas Vissac/AFP/Getty Images)
French troops in Chad prepare to be airlifted into Mali yesterday. (photo: Nicolas Vissac/AFP/Getty Images)

US Moves to Bolster French Military Campaign in Mali

By Shashank Bengali, Ken Dilanian and David S. Cloud, Los Angeles Times

15 January 13


The U.S. is preparing to ferry more French troops to Mali and provide other help. The fight against Al Qaeda affiliates gained urgency given the rebel advances.

he Obama administration is preparing to ferry hundreds of additional French troops to the North African country of Mali, bolstering a rapidly evolving military campaign in the latest conflict with Al Qaeda affiliates.

U.S. officials said they also were making plans to send drones or other surveillance aircraft and provide help with aerial refueling of French fighter jets, which bombed columns of Al Qaeda-allied militants in northern Mali for a fourth straight day Monday.

The Pentagon's moves reflect growing concern in Washington about rebel advances, and a decision by the Obama administration to back France's operation after months of inaction. French officials said they had halted the rebels' advance on Bamako, the capital, but insurgents later overran Malian forces in a town about 200 miles northeast of the capital.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, speaking to reporters during a trip to Europe, said the U.S. was already providing the French with intelligence help, citing "a responsibility to go after Al Qaeda wherever they are." Defense officials said small numbers of U.S. troops might be sent to Mali and surrounding countries but that they would be limited to a support role.

"We have promised [France] that we will ... provide whatever assistance we can to try to help them," Panetta said.

As the Obama administration winds down the United States' long, costly war in Afghanistan, the focus of Western governments' terrorism concerns has shifted to places such as Yemen, Somalia and northern Nigeria. Once-stable Mali joined the list after Islamist rebels seized the northern half of the country after a military coup in March. According to U.S. officials, the militants set up training camps and increased coordination with militant groups elsewhere in Africa.

The militants imposed harsh Islamic law, including forced amputations and summary executions.

The rebels include hundreds of fighters from Al Qaeda's North African affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which U.S. officials have described as the terrorist network's best-financed branch. Flush with cash from kidnapping and smuggling operations, the fighters gained large stocks of military equipment after the 2011 fall of Moammar Kadafi in Libya. Weapons from Kadafi's regime flowed across the lawless Sahara into Mali.

U.S. officials say the Al Qaeda offshoot has between 800 and 1,200 fighters and that an unknown number also have joined in recent months from other African nations and Europe.

"They've increased in numbers because they're able to operate a little more openly," one U.S. defense official said before the French campaign began. "A lot of folks have seen the success they've had, and that draws in people from the region as well as foreigners who've come in from outside the region."

France, the former colonial power in Mali, has a large North African immigrant population and has long feared that Islamists could use their base in Mali to plot attacks on French soil. Eight French hostages reportedly are being held by Islamists in northern Mali.

U.S. officials until recently didn't regard the threat with great urgency, but the rebel advance last week appeared to force France's hand - and heightened American concern. According to local news reports, one group of fighters attacked the town of Konna and moved toward government-controlled Mopti while a second group advanced to the west, showing a level of coordination that analysts hadn't seen before.

"Until a week ago, I and others were telling people we don't really think that there's much of a threat here, because these [militants] have very parochial interests and we don't think they've got the military capability," said Michael Shurkin, a former CIA analyst who worked on Mali and is now an expert at the Rand Corp. think tank.

"What France saw this last week just scared it. It saw real capability, audacity and capacity," he said.

French President Francois Hollande swiftly sent 550 troops to Mali, mainly to Bamako to secure the airport and, if necessary, evacuate the roughly 6,000 French citizens living there, officials said. France has asked the Pentagon for help in quickly moving another 500 to 600 troops and their equipment into the country, a U.S. defense official said.

U.S. military planners were devising options for using Air Force cargo planes to move the forces from France to staging areas outside Mali, possibly including the neighboring countries of Niger and Burkina Faso, the official said.

"We're going to do it," the official said. "We just don't know what platforms yet," referring to the types of aircraft.

The United States for several years conducted training operations with Mali's armed forces but was legally required to suspend all assistance to the Malian government after the March coup. A U.S. official said that restriction was delaying assistance to the French operation, but Obama administration lawyers were looking at ways around the prohibition.

Last month the United Nations signed off on a West African-led plan to send 3,300 regional troops to help Malian forces retake the north. France is putting pressure on the West African bloc to speed the deployment of its soldiers.

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the campaign had three objectives: to stop the rebel advance, preserve Mali's territorial integrity and prepare for the arrival of African troops.

"Our priority now is to accelerate the deployment of the African intervention force," Ayrault said.

But there were signs Monday that the French operation could take longer than planners hoped. Rebels launched a counterattack in the government-held town of Diabaly, to the west of the heaviest bombardments, driving the Malian army from the area.

"The forces of the terrorist groups are exactly what we expected," said French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, adding that the focus of the bombing campaign would shift to the west.

"They are heavily armed. They are very determined. They are very well-organized. We knew this," he said.

The African intervention has been in the works for months, and some U.S. officials said the Islamist rebels had been planning for a foreign intervention. A spokesman for one of the rebel groups, the homegrown Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, vowed a long fight, saying, "France has opened the gates of hell for all the French."

Late Monday, U.S. officials said that France appeared to have stopped the main rebel advance for now. The Islamists' harsh treatment of civilians may also be complicating their efforts to quickly seize new ground.

"Although extremists in northern Mali are well-armed and resilient, they're facing their first real test," a U.S. official said. your social media marketing partner


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+3 # Anarchist 23 2013-01-15 11:46
Ooooh-another game of 'Wack A Mole' with the French. I remember how the last one turned out; we got the Viet Nam War. The biggest threat to world peace are the Satanic Plutocrats who are destroying the planet. Wait for the bloody shirt-it is bound to be pulled out an waved again. Just like the matador waves at the bull the red cloth behind which the sword is concealed. Do not mistake the part YOU are expected to play in all this.
+2 # RMDC 2013-01-16 05:43
Satanic Plutocrats -- I like that. And Obama and Hollande are their errand boys.
+3 # reiverpacific 2013-01-15 11:48
Oh great; more tax $ to repress a bunch of Tuaregs with pop-guns (comparitavely speaking).
Aren't the French jets enough? War on anybody again.
Fucking bullies!!!
+2 # qasee 2013-01-15 12:51
Here we go again.Didn't we do this before in a place called Vietnam?
Well I guess as the Afghanistan adventure winds down, we have to take the show on the road. Got to keep that war machine busy.
-6 # Texas Aggie 2013-01-15 14:57
The three comments, anarchist, reiver, and qasee, obviously have no idea of what Mali is like or what it is going through at the moment. If you think that weapons that include antiaircraft rockets are popguns, then you are a fool. If you think that allowing jihadists to impose their sick version of Islam on one of the most tolerant Moslem societies in the world is tickety boo, then you lack basic decency. If you think that Mali is going to be another Viet Nam where the population supported the insurgents, then again, you watch too much Fox.
0 # Activista 2013-01-15 21:18
"France is the former colonial power in Mali(former French Sudan), and Mr. Le Drian, the defense minister, has said it intervened to prevent the possible collapse of Mali’s government and “the establishment of a terrorist state within range of Europe and of France.”
"military spokesman for the French operation in Mali said Tuesday that the Islamists had taken more territory since the French air raid began because the fighters were mixing in with the population "
just reading between the lines ....'%C3%A9tat
wonder who "invited" France to Mali -- generals ... military ... sure CIA is in the mess ...
Natural resources: Mali is endowed with bauxite, copper, diamonds, gold, Granite, gypsum, iron ore, kaolin, limestone, lithium, manganese, ...
0 # Activista 2013-01-15 15:20
French are not doing well in Africa - native people/tribes are winning. My sympathy is with Tuaregs - Africa is for the people - not mineral resources for West Consumer MONEY culture.
+3 # MidwestTom 2013-01-15 16:41
Correct me if I am wrong, but we support Saudi Arabia, the Saudi's support the Islamic Fundamentalist ( politely called rebels , and we support the French who are now fighting the rebels. Is this how we keep the Military Industrial complex going?
+2 # RMDC 2013-01-16 05:48
This is the re-colonization of Africa. Africa is where the greatest mineral wealth in the world exists. Western corporations are in a scramble to control them. They do not care how many people are killed. In the last decade, some 6-8 million people have been killed in eastern Congo in the development of the Coltan trade. It is all run by western corporations through proxy companies and mercenaries -- just like the Congo Free State was run by Belgium and King Leopold 100 years ago. Same exact process.

The re-coloniztion of Africa could only happen with Obama, a son of Africa, as president. He will go down in history as the Butcher of Africa. We are witnessing the begining of the greatest holocaust in all human history. Before this new set of Satanic Plutocrats is finished, probably a hundred million people will be dead.
0 # Activista 2013-01-16 14:37
Out "western" MONEY culture is criminal. Maximizing profit at any cost - French invasion is great propaganda for Al-Kaida - and then when the payback comes - the brainwashed US volks will ask - why?
+1 # Activista 2013-01-16 20:55
Militants seize dozens of hostages in Algeria (BP plant)as protest against French bombing of Mali. Rebels from Libya are coming home to roost. These are native tribes/people. They do not want BP/West to destroy their land. US/France pathetic military - neocons - neocolonialism want to keep local tribes down. Read headlines in the US mass media - Muslims, militants, terrorists ... what a metamorphosis from Hillary/Obama freedom fighters year ago in Libya.

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