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American Forces Press Service

Mali’s Lessons Inform Future Partnership Efforts, Official Says

By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 14, 2013 – The United States continues to work with international and interagency partners to support the efforts of France and the African-led international support mission to Mali to counter extremists and restore Malian sovereignty, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs told Congress today.

Amanda J. Dory was joined by Ambassador Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of African affairs, in testimony before members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Since Jan. 11, France has been supporting Mali’s efforts to eliminate the threat posed by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which backed Mali’s Tuareg minority in their efforts to control Mali’s northern regions. The United States is providing support in the form of intelligence, air refueling services and airlift operations, Dory said.

It is critical that the international community help Mali and its neighbors, she said.

“France’s intervention in Mali has contributed to shared strategic objectives in multiple ways,” Dory said. “These include shrinking [al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb’s] safe haven, contributing to the restoration of Malian territorial integrity, and setting the enabling conditions for elections.”

Since operations began, U.S. troops have flown 43 C-17 Globemaster III sorties and moved 1,090 tons of equipment and supplies, Carson said.

Transported French personnel included a mechanized battalion, Dory said, and a company-sized element will leave France soon to respond to improvised explosive devices.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta made it clear that the United States would respond as soon as feasible to French requests for assistance, as befits allies, Dory said.

The current counterterrorism effort in Mali complements parallel U.S. strategic objectives to support a sustainable resolution to northern grievances, help Mali transition back to democracy and improve the humanitarian situation, Dory said.

The African-led international support mission to Mali includes deployed personnel from 13 African nations and is supported by 22 additional nations, including the United States, Dory added.

Until a coup early last year deposed Mali’s democratically elected government, the United States provided training and assistance to Mali’s military. The coup was an outgrowth of a rebellion in January 2012 and the Malian government’s response to it, Dory said. It came as the result of long-standing, unresolved conflicts between the government in Bamako and its northern population, she said.

“Unlike in previous rebellions,” Dory said, “northern Tuaregs with legitimate political grievances began working with hardened and armed extremists, some associated with [al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb]. Drawing on weapons and fighters from North Africa, this new rebellion resulted in an armed advance on population centers, destruction of world heritage sites and the imposition of brutal rule.”

Following the rebellion and coup, Dory said, northern Mali became a safe haven for al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and its affiliates.

Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb is part of a terror network, she said, with its associated risks of cross-fertilization and cross-pollination. While at this point the group doesn’t pose a direct threat to the U.S. homeland, she said, it does pose a threat to American citizens overseas and U.S., Western and African regional interests.

Despite active DOD engagement prior to the coup, Mali’s perception over time of the security environment diverged from that of the United States, Dory said. Rather than moving against al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, the government focused on the perceived threat posed by Tuaregs, she said.

Two lessons emerged from that situation, Dory told the panel.

First, a focus on capacity and capability building is not enough. There must be a shared sense of will, she said.

The second lesson, Dory said, is that to ensure that professionalism, ethics, human rights training and strategic thinking are institutionalized, it's critically important to engage at in institutional level as well.

“This is something our British and French colleagues do in terms of having advisers that are on site in different security institutions [and] ministries,” she said, “and it's something that we're beginning to do at DOD outside the Afghanistan theater.”

Notwithstanding the setbacks DOD faced in Mali, Dory said, the model of building the capacity of African partners to take responsibility for their own security remains appropriate, and has been successful with other states in the region.

Defense Department engagement with the Malian armed forces is currently restricted by policy because of the coup, Dory said, and there is “no consideration of putting U.S. combat forces on the ground in Mali.”

“However,” she added, “we continue to work to support Mali’s neighbors to contain and degrade shared threats.”

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