A senior civilian official of the American military command for Africa said she sees no role for U.S. troops in any effort to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on war crimes charges.
Ambassador Mary Yates is Deputy to the Commander for Civilian and Military Activities of AFRICOM and has a unique role in the military command.
She met Wednesday with AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping and Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra to discuss policy coordination on many of Africa's trouble spots.
Afterward, she said the conversation touched on the ICC indictments against Sudan's President Bashir. The African Union is urging a suspension of the arrest warrants for Mr. Bashir, and Chairman Ping is likely to lead a joint AU-Arab League delegation going to the U.N. Security Council soon to press the case.
In apparent defiance of the arrest warrants, Mr. Bashir is traveling to regional capitals, and is due in Addis Ababa early next month. But Ambassador Yates said AFRICOM would not be involved in any attempt to arrest him.
"There is no role I can see at this moment. ... review of our policy toward Sudan. certainly crimes and war crimes need to be accounted for, and this is a dialogue I came to listen and have with the leaders of the AU as well," she said.
Yates said any U.S. military activity would be peripheral, as it was in the arrest of another indicted war criminal, Liberia's Charles Taylor.
"I would look back to the arrest of President Taylor in Liberia. The U.S. military command played no role in that. We watched with concern, we helped get ECOWAS peacekeepers into Liberia to bring about stability," she said. "The [U.S. warship] Iwo Jima sailed offshore and we helped Marines secure the airport. That's the kind of role the U.S. military plays after decisions have been taken, but we are not in the political arena," she explained.
Yates acknowledged the role U.S. ships are playing in international efforts to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia. She had nothing to say about Osama bin Laden's recent call for the overthrow Somalia's new President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.
But she said the United States remains closely tuned to the movements of suspected terrorists from the Horn of Africa all the way to the western Sahara.
"I would leave reaction to Osama bin Laden's comments up to people of Somalia and the region. As far as our counterterrorism efforts. The U.S. military, and the State Department together are working with nine countries on both sides of the Sahara because of the ungoverned spaces in the Sahara," she said. "We have worked with them training, equipping...because to develop the capacity of Africans and African nations to look for the terrorists crossing their borders is something we take very seriously," she said.
Yates is a career diplomat who has served both Republican and Democrat administrations in Africa. She said experience tells her that while there will be small changes here and there in U.S. policy toward Africa under President Barack Obama, she cannot imagine what she called 'broad brush changes" in the new administration.