U.S. to help France in Mali battle – without putting troops on the ground

Contributor:  Mike O'Brien
Posted:  01/16/2013  12:00:00 AM EST
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The U.S.  military  is poised to ferry hundreds of extra French troops to the North African country of Mali, to help in the latest battle against Al Qaeda-linked rebels.

Pentagon officials said are plans to send drones or other surveillance aircraft and provide help with aerial refueling of French fighter jets, but stressed there will be no U.S. “boots on the ground.”
The Obama administration’s decision follows months of inaction but illustrates the growing fears over rebel advances.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the administration wants to thwart the north African armed jihadist group Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) from setting up a massive camp in Mali, AFP reports.
He said: “We have always been concerned about efforts by Al-Qaeda to establish that kind of base. Our commitment ever since 9-11 has been to go after Al-Qaeda wherever they are and to make sure that they have no place to hide.
"Our hope is that we can work with the French to provide whatever assistance we can to try to assist them in that effort," he added. "The hope is that, ultimately, they will be able to succeed and establish better security for Mali."
He added: "There is no consideration of putting any American boots on the ground at this time.”
The battle against Islamist domination in northern Mali by France stepped up a gear on Sunday with intensive air strikes on the rebel-held town of Gao. French fighter jets bombed the city’s airport and the militants camp on Sunday, January 12, two days after a pilot from France was killed when the extremists shot down his helicopter.
Reuters reports that French authorities have grown increasingly concerned that areas of northern Mali will become a base from which Al-Qaeda-linked operations will plot attacks on the West.
France now has nearly 550 troops in the African country, with about 6,000 French citizens living there.
Mike O'Brien Contributor:   Mike O'Brien

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