No end in sight for 1-year-old Air Force mission over Mali
An airman waits for departure from Bamako International Airport after assisting in a C-17 Globemaster flight, Jan. 25, 2013, from Base Aerienne 125, Istres, France to Bamako, Mali.
RAF MILDENHALL, England — The yearlong U.S. Air Force operation over Mali in support of the French mission there is set to continue for the immediate future, officials said.
January marks the one-year anniversary of the U.S. mission over the West African nation. While the Pentagon does not expect it to go on indefinitely, no end date has been set, Defense Department spokesman Maj. Robert Firman said.
Although Mali has regained some stability, holding elections for a new government since French forces intervened to halt the advance of al-Qaeda-linked militants, the French continue to deploy a military contingent there.
French President Francois Hollande wants to cut the French presence considerably in the near future and hand over security responsibility to African Union and U.N. forces. Paris plans to reduce the number of its troops in Mali to 1,600 next month, down from the 2,500 now serving there.
Maj. Nicholas Schindler, commander of the 351st Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, which runs the refueling missions out of Moron, Spain, said that the squadron continues flying almost every day to fuel French aircraft, but that the pace of operations has decreased.
“So, we’re hoping to continue to see, obviously, the French success there and hopefully our mission will continue to slow down,” Schindler said.
The mission so far has distributed 15.6 million gallons of fuel, logging more than 3,400 flying hours as of Tuesday, officials said.
Firman said the U.S. may still provide support to the remaining French troops after the drawdown.
“We will just have to see what the requirements looks like when the withdrawal” happens, Firman said.