RADIO FRANCE INTERNATIONAL
14 NOVEMBER 2012
The US’s African command, Africom, is
expecting to provide support for the
planned west African military
intervention in northern Mali, a top US
general said on Wednesday. According
to US intelligence, any military intervention force will encounter an
estimated 800-1200 “hardcore”
By Daniel Finnan
“It won’t be a surprise to us,” US Africa
Command General Carter Ham told RFI.
“It’s likely that they’ll ask us for some
assistance in intelligence. It’s likely they
will ask us for some help in logistics,
equipping the force.”
Ham says they are ready to “seriously
consider” any requests, although
nothing specific has been asked for yet.
He expects those discussions to take
place when the ECOWAS grouping of West African countries presents its plan for military invention to the UN Security
The head of the US Africa Command says
their intelligence from the region is
“imperfect”, but they estimate there are
between 800-1,200 “hardcore” fighters
in northern Mali as well as “supporting
entities and sympathisers”. The African Union has backed the ECOWAS plan to send 3,300 troops into northern Mali. It will be discussed by the UN Security Council before the end of the year.
A number of armed groups have
occupied Mali’s northern territory since a
military coup in March. According to
Ham, the most worrying of those is Al-
Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim). “Ultimately if left unaddressed, this
terrorist network will present an
imminent threat to my country and to
others,” he says. It is “very likely” that some of the fighters who participated in the attacks on the US consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi, in which ambassador Chris Stevens was killed, had “some linkages” to AQIM.
Ham says that AFRICOM has “clear
indications” of AQIM working with the
Nigerian armed Islamist group Boko
Haram. “AQIM is in our estimation Al-Qaeda’s best financed affiliate,” he says. But the general is unsure that providing
air support for the military intervention
in northern Mali will be called for.
“When you start to get into capabilities
that are very visible and very kinetic, the
question of being African-led needs to
be addressed,” he says. “But that
certainly needs to be a consideration.” Ham does not entertain any discussion
of using unmanned aerial vehicles, or
drones, over northern Mali. Neither does
he confirm or deny that bases in Nema,
Mauritania, or Ouagadougou, Burkina
Faso, would be convenient for providing US support.
He is also cautious about what training
for Malian troops the US could provide.
He says the US is legally prevented from
training soldiers from the Malian army
because leaders of March’s military coup
remain in positions of influence within the government. “We’re certainly looking for indications that the interim Malian government recognises that the presence of the military coup leaders is unhelpful,” says the four-star general. “At least for the United States it presents a legal barrier to interaction.”
Ham says that Algeria will play a “key”
role to helping to resolve the crisis,
whether there is Ecowas military
intervention or not. Algeria opposes the
use of armed force in Mali. Algeria’s suggestion of separating those groups with political aims and those with “terrorist motivations” could be a
way forward, he believes.