Small team of U.S. troops still in Mali, on 'stand-by'
Stars and Stripes
STUTTGART, Germany — Although U.S. Africa Command has suspended military cooperation with Mali following last month’s coup, a few U.S. military personnel continue to deploy to Mali “on stand-by” as negotiations for a return to civilian rule continue, AFRICOM officials said.
Over the weekend, AFRICOM dispatched a team of rotating advisory troops to the capital, Bamako.
“The U.S. military members will not engage with the Malian military ... until the current situation is resolved and the U.S. Government approves restitution of the long-standing U.S.-Malian partnership,” Nicole Dalrymple, an AFRICOM spokeswoman, said in a statement. “(U.S. government) personnel from many agencies, including DOD, remain on stand-by in Bamako as negotiations continue for a return to democratic, constitutional, civilian rule.”
The U.S. military team, which comprises four to six rotating troops, is part of an enduring presence AFRICOM maintains at the U.S. Embassy in Bamako. The so-called Joint Planning Assistance Team had been working with Mali’s military to evaluate its capabilities and craft training plans to bolster the effectiveness of the force, according to AFRICOM.
While Mali is an important partner in U.S. counterterrorism efforts in the region, the coup has rendered Mali’s military ineffective, resulting in a security vacuum, according to U.S. officials. As a result, the Mali military has halted operations in the north, where Tuareg rebel forces have been steadily gaining ground.
Mali’s “territorial integrity” is now at risk, Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokeswoman said Tuesday.
“The concern has been that as the security forces of Mali have split, some of them joining the junta leaders, some of them still supporting the elected government, they have stopped fighting the Tuaregs in the north,” Nuland said Tuesday. “We’ve seen the result of that — that the Tuaregs have made a march not only on Gao but on Timbuktu — that the situation has become considerably worse.”
There also are concerns about the potential threats posed by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which operates in ungoverned spaces across Western and Northern Africa.
Mali is among the nations taking part in the U.S.’s Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, a State Department-led initiative aimed at dealing with terrorist groups operating in northern and western Africa. In connection with that, AFRICOM has conducted a range of training activities and exercises with Mali’s armed forces.
Last week, the Obama administration suspended roughly $70 million in nonhumanitarian aid to Mali as part of an effort to pressure the military junta to step aside and restore civilian rule. On Tuesday, the U.S. also imposed restrictions on travel to the United States on immediate family members of those connected to what U.S. officials have described as a “mutiny.” The move by the U.S. follows similar travel restrictions imposed by the Economic Community of West African States and the African Union.