ADDIS ABABA — A U.S. representative at the African Union summit says a political solution is needed in Mali alongside military operations to bring stability to the country that was seized by a militant uprising in the north. While the U.S. says it will support the African force in Mali, Washington cannot fully engage with the country until a new government is elected.
The United States has given its backing to the African-led military mission to confront al-Qaida-linked militants who have seized territory in northern Mali following a coup in March. The United States is providing logistical support and equipment to countries involved in operations against the militants, but the State Department says the political crisis in the country must also be addressed.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Don Yamamoto said in an interview with VOA on Saturday that, legally, the United States has its hands tied until a new government is put in place.
“As you know, the United States, we cannot provide any assistance to the Malian forces, or really Mali in general, until the restrictions are lifted, that is, a government is elected and we can lift the sanctions,” Yamamoto said.
But a political solution seems far off, as militants have seized huge swathes of territory and displaced hundreds of thousands of people in the north.
Yamamoto says holding elections is the first priority and one of the biggest challenges. “Well, first of all is going for elections and of course you can't have elections without involvement of the north and so the question comes in is how are you going to bring the north into this process?" he asked. "And those are issues of discussions.”
The United States is also sending a delegation to an AU donor's conference for Mali being held next week in the Ethiopian capital after the summit.
Yamamoto downplayed expectations for a large contribution, due to political wrangling over the budget on Capitol Hill.
“Whatever number we do give, again, it's going to be dependent on the upcoming budget debates in Washington, but remember we are looking at all ways we can support this operation,” noted Yamaoto.
The U.S. is under scrutiny for its response to the crisis in Mali, as one of the most supportive backers of the African Union mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
But Jakkie Cilliers, the Executive Director of the Institute for Security Studies, says the spread of Islamist militancy in northern Africa and Somali to another extent, is partially the result of past U.S. counter-terrorism policies.
“It's a little bit of a blowback on the war on terror, and I think that the U.S. recognizes that Africa could become the next frontier in the global war on terror," Cilliers noted. "And the issue needs to be dealt with and dealt with quickly, so it's in the U.S. interest.”
The Obama administration has also supported the French military intervention in Mali, though there are reports of tension between the two sides on the degree of U.S. involvement, with France asking for more logistical support.
French warplanes have been attacking rebel positions in support of Malian troops and France is deploying some 3,000 soldiers.
The African-led military force initially called for 3,300 troops from African countries. But a growing number of countries have pledged soldiers to the mission, prompting the AU Peace and Security Council to ask for an increase in the mandate and immediate financial assistance from the United Nations.