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January 14, 2013

US Working to Speed Deployment of ECOWAS Troops to Mali

by Scott Stearns

The United States says it shares French goals in striking militarily against Islamist rebels in northern Mali and is working with neighboring states to deploy a regional intervention force.  But the Obama administration says there must also be a political solution to the conflict.  
 
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland says Washington is reviewing several French requests to support its ongoing military campaign against al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists in Mali.
 
She says the Obama administration is also ready to send military trainers to Africa this week to help prepare troops from neighboring countries that might be sent to Mali to support the transitional government in Bamako. 
 
U.N. Security Council members have been discussing an intervention force with the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, for months.  But those talks got dragged down by questions of which countries would send how many troops, for how long, at whose expense.
 
"Clearly, when the rebels started moving south, that was a wake up call to everybody.  And now with the urgent Malian call for outside help, I think it was not just to the French but it was also to ECOWAS to please speed it up, so we're all focused on that as well.  So our sense from our ECOWAS contacts is that they are rolling up their sleeves now to try to get in as quickly as they can," she said. 
 
Despite early French gains in pushing back rebels on some fronts, Islamist militants Monday seized the town of Diabaly, about 400 kilometers north of the capital.
 
Nuland says "there is no purely security solution to the problems in Mali."
 
"We are, in concert with the security track, pushing hard on all stakeholders in Mali to commit to and begin preparing for the elections that are supposed to take place by April of this year.  That's going to require a free, fair, transparent electoral process," she said. 
 
Beyond restoring democracy, she says there must be an economic commitment to address the grievances of under-developed communities in the north and a concerted push to appeal to those who are wiling to renounce terrorism.
 
"You have hardcore fighters, whether they're from the outside or whether they are local rebels committed to a violent resolution of their grievances.  You have other actors in the community who are dissatisfied with the government and therefore may be attracted to an extremist course of action if they don't feel like that have any other alternatives," she said. 
 
Nuland says the United States remains concerned about the political and military influence of last March's coup leader Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo and is urging both Mali's military and its transitional government to marginalize him.