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Islamists Pose Serious Threat in Northern Mali, Clinton Says

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies during a hearing held by the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 23, 2013.
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."

Recent French Interventions in Africa

Recent French Interventions in Africa

  • Mali 2013:
    French forces launch air strikes on Islamists rebels.
  • Somalia 2013:
    French commandos are killed during failed hostage rescue mission.
  • Ivory Coast 2011:
    French forces move in after Laurent Gbagbo refuses to step down following contested elections.
  • Libya 2011:
    French planes are first to bomb Moammar Gadhafi's forces after U.N. votes to allow intervention to protect civilians.
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.