The State Department’s top official for Africa shot down proposals to reunify the West African country of Mali by force following a rebellion by nomadic Tuaregs and Islamist militants.
The comments by Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson come as several multinational organizations — notably the United Nations, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) — are discussing the viability of a peacekeeping mission in Mali.
In March, a military coup ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure , and rebel groups in the north grabbed the opportunity to seize control of the northern part of the country and declare an Islamic breakaway state last month. A junta handed power to an interim government, but the junta’s leaders, including Capt. Amadou Sanogo, still wield influence.
Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum, a gathering of current and former national security officials, Michael Sheehan, the Pentagon’s assistant secretary for special operations, said there was deep concern about the militants’ activities in northern Mali, which has fallen out of the control of Mali’s coup-led government in Bamako, the capital. The new government has been accused of brutal repression.
Military intervention by foreign powers in Mali is “probable,” France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Thursday, to end unrest in the West African nation where al-Qaeda-linked militants control significant territory.
“At one moment or another there will probably be the use of force,” Fabius said, noting that intervention would be African-led but supported by international forces, according to Reuters.
Mali’s military said Thursday it would welcome a West African military intervention force to help recapture the north, where some militants are enforcing strict Islamic law.
Since the coup, the United States has terminated assistance to the country, removed its Peace Corps volunteers and imposed travel sanctions on some 60 people linked to the coup.
Meanwhile, President Obama authorized $10 million in emergency funds for people displaced by the conflict in northern Mali, the White House said. The funds will support efforts of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement. Already, almost 230,000 Malian refugees have fled to Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger, while an additional 155,000 Malians are internally displaced, he said .
Pressed about what the United States should do to help Mali regain control of the northern part of the country, Carson said there’s “more of a role to play in the south at this point.” Part of the concern is to avoid driving Tuareg rebels further into the hands of Islamic militants with ties to terror groups, with whom they currently have an uneasy alliance.