News / Africa

US Urges Greater Sahel Cooperation Against AQIM

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— The Obama administration says West African leaders should work with Mauritania and Algeria to help stop the spread of al-Qaida affiliated terrorists in Mali.

Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson says the international community is working with Mali's neighbors inside and outside the regional ECOWAS alliance to combat the terrorist group al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM.

"The issue of AQIM is of concern not only to Mali but to all the neighboring states - whether it is Algeria, whether it is Mauritania, whether it is Niger, Burkina Faso, or Senegal. Terrorism is a trans-national threat not only to the people of the country but to the people of the region. And if, in fact, it gets out of hand, it can become a threat to those in Europe and beyond," said Carson.

AQIM has become more active in the Sahel since the fall of former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and since April's coup against the central government in Bamako.

Carson says it is essential that Mali move toward new elections as quickly as possible to restore democratic legitimacy and the proper division between civilian and military affairs.

"There is a need for the military not to have any direct or indirect involvement in the management of Mali's democracy or governance," he said.

Some members of the regional ECOWAS alliance want to send troops to Mali to help secure a weak transitional government and to help re-organize and train the Malian army. They would then launch a joint offensive with Malian troops to recapture areas in the north held by Tuareg militants, some of whom are affiliated with the al-Qaida group.

But Mali's military says there will be no foreign soldiers fighting in the north. It wants ECOWAS troops to help hold towns that Malian forces recapture.

ECOWAS leaders are looking to the U.N. Security Council to mandate their intervention. But a request in June was turned down as too vague. The Security Council this week urged Mali and other actors to first "exhaust all means of negotiation" to resolve the crisis.

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