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US Military Undeterred by Plane Shooting Incident in Mali

A U.S. military plane that was shot at earlier this week by suspected rebels in Mali's northeastern desert is scheduled to leave the country on Saturday. U.S. military officials are undeterred by the shooting, saying they are still willing to help Malian government troops. Phuong Tran has more from VOA's West Africa Bureau in Dakar.

The C-130 aircraft will go for repairs at a U.S. military base in Germany.

The aircraft was shot at early Thursday as it was dropping 14,000 pounds of food to Malian troops fighting a recent resurgence in rebel violence in the desert.

Despite the attack, military spokesman John Dorrian says the U.S. military will not be discouraged from helping African government troops again.

"It is normal for us to offer assistance," said Dorrian. "There are risks inherent in doing that. Once we agree to do so, [we] do so knowing things may not go perfectly. But in this instance, the troops that needed the supplies received them. There were no injuries and the aircraft returned with minor damage. So that is successful."

Malian military spokesman Abdoulaye Coulibaly blames Tuareg rebel leader Ibrahim Ag Bahanga for the attack, which followed weeks of landmine explosions, dozens of government soldier kidnappings and civilian deaths in the desert border near Algeria.

No rebel faction has claimed responsibility.

U.K.-based Tuareg analyst Jeremy Keenan says the U.S. military presence is upsetting an already fragile region of conflict between Tuareg rebels and the Malian government.

The U.S. military recently completed an anti-terrorism training exercise in Mali, as part of the four-year-old, multi-million-dollar U.S.-led Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Initiative.

Some analysts have said the American initiative is misguided and that the Saharan desert is a region of widespread poverty, rather than a feared training camp for brutal religious extremists.

Since the 1990s, Tuareg fighters in Mali and in neighboring Algeria and Niger have staged rebellions to demand economic aid. The different waves of fighting ended in peace deals nomad fighters say have been unfulfilled.

Malian and Niger officials say they have kept most promises.

Analyst Keenan says Tuareg rebels are threatened by U.S. military training in Mali, because they fear their government will use the military support to repress Tuareg opposition.

"Local people have become progressively sort-of fed up," said Keenan. "[This is] why it has become so unstable and why it has now broken out into rebellion."

According to U.S. government documents, nine Saharan governments receive U.S. funding and training to strengthen their militaries to fight drugs and arms smuggling, terrorism and human trafficking, and improve regional communication.

U.S. officials say this week's shooting does not change U.S. plans to continue anti-terrorism military training in Mali.