STUTTGART, Germany — U.S. military experts are providing key planning support to regional militaries on a strategy for an African-led intervention in northern Mali, which has become a safe haven for al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations, U.S. defense officials said Wednesday.
“The broad strategic concept for that deployment is sound; more specific planning is under way to address operational shortfalls,” Amanda Dory, deputy assistant secretary of defense for African Affairs, said during a Senate hearing.
There is no plan to send U.S. troops to take part in the intervention, but support could come in other forms, including training for the African forces that would be taking part in the operations.
Dory, in testimony submitted to the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, said U.S. military advice will be a key part to the mission being headed up by the Economic Community of West African States, known as ECOWAS.
“Failure to provide robust support to local partners at this stage could allow the threat to grow to a point where regional states could no longer address it,” Dory said. “This is very much an African-led process, and our efforts are aimed at making our partners more capable, both at combating the terrorist threat in their territories and at providing better security for their people generally.”
U.S. Africa Command is actively supporting the military planning effort, she said.
Mali, an impoverished west African country, has been in disarray following a military coup in March. In the country’s north, insurgent organizations and terror groups have been able to take advantage of the unrest, which has resulted in a security vacuum.
Though the security situation has steadily grown worse, U.S. officials have cautioned against a speedy response.
A badly planned attack would likely fail, making the situation worse, according to AFRICOM’s leader, Gen. Carter Ham.
“Negotiation is the best way; military intervention may be a necessary component,” Ham said during an appearance Monday at George Washington University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute. “But if there is to be military intervention, it has to be successful. It cannot be done prematurely.”
ECOWAS, along with the United Nations Security Council and African Union, are working on an action plan for Mali.
On Wednesday, African Union officials appealed to the U.N. for funding support for the planned intervention, which could take place in 2013. That appeal was in response to a Nov. 29 Security Council report by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who recommended approving a 3,200 ECOWAS force, but without U.N. funding.
Ban, in a written statement, said funding for the initial combat-related military operations “could be through voluntary or bilateral contributions.” African officials have expressed doubts that such a funding plan could work.
Antonio Tete, African Union observer at the U.N., said during a meeting Wednesday that U.N. funding support would be needed, citing problems with missions in Darfur and Somalia that relied on voluntary donations.
“Mali is at a crossroads,” said Tete, according to a U.N. account of the meeting. “Time is of [the] essence. We need to act fast and to send a clear and strong message on the resolve of the international community and its support to the African-led efforts.”
As for U.S. plan for support, it is likely to resemble the kind of assistance that has been provided in recent years to Somalia, where the insurgent group al-Shabab once threatened to overtake the country but now stands severely weakened.
Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, has said Somalia could serve as a model for how to operate in Mali.
The U.S. approach in Somalia has centered on training and equipping African Union forces, who, in turn, have pushed al-Shabab out of Somalia’s capital city and other major cities.
“We look to try to have the same kind of both regional and international cooperation on Mali,” Carson said in October.
Al-Qaida in the Maghreb has a history of terrorist attacks across the Sahel region, but has not demonstrated an ability to attack targets in the United States. Still, AQIM has expressed an intent to target Europe, Dory said.
For that reason, the European Union also is planning a support effort focused on training security forces in Mali.