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January 23, 2013

Islamists Pose Serious Threat in Northern Mali, Clinton Says

by Scott Stearns

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the French and West African fight against Islamist militants in northern Mali is part of a necessary struggle against global terrorism.  

Clinton said the military campaign against al-Qaida affiliated terrorists in northern Mali is crucial to denying them a staging area from which to launch attacks across Africa's Sahel region.

"This is going to be a very serious, ongoing threat because if you look at the size of northern Mali, if you look at the topography - it's not only desert, it's caves," she said. "Sounds reminiscent. We are in for a struggle. But it is a necessary struggle. We can not permit northern Mali to become a safe haven."

​​At the request of Mali's interim government, French troops are taking the lead in the fight against militants who seized control of northern Mali last year and began pushing southward earlier this month. West African troops are also arriving in Mali to assist that effort.

Clinton said the Obama administration is supporting that West African initiative while working with Mali's other neighbors.

"We have been working to try to upgrade security around northern Mali among a number of the countries," she said. "Algeria is the only one with any real ability to do that. Most of these countries don't have the capacity to do that."

U.S. military trainers are helping prepare some of the troops from the Economic Community of West African States that are going to Mali. ECOWAS members Nigeria, Niger, Togo, Burkina Faso, Liberia, Benin, Guinea, Ghana, and Senegal are pledging soldiers, as is Chad.