US providing intelligence support to French forces in Mali

Mali and the Independent State of Azawad
The United States is providing intelligence support to hundreds of French troops that entered the West African nation of Mali last week, according to American and French officials. On January 11, at least 400 French soldiers entered Mali from French military bases in neighboring Burkina Faso and Chad, in what the French Ministry of National Defense has codenamed Opération SERVAL. The French intervention was sparked by the conflict in northern Mali, which erupted in 2012. In January of that year, Tuareg tribesmen formerly employed by the late Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi teamed up with a host of local Islamist groups, including the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) and Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith). Guided by members of the al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), these groups rapidly seized Mali’s massive northern region (which they call ‘the Independent State of Azawad’), where they are said to have imposed a strict version of Islamic sharia law. Last week’s intervention by the French military came to many as a surprise, though not to intelNews leaders, who have known for a while that Paris had been lobbying Western officials to help it launch a military intervention in the West African country. It now appears that Western countries are indeed helping France’s military operations in Mali. Outgoing US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters on Monday that the Pentagon is gathering intelligence for the benefit of French forces. The US, said Panetta, has “a responsibility to go after al-Qaida wherever they are” and ensure that its members do not “establish a base of operations” in West Africa. He added that Washington is considering widening its support to Paris by providing “logistics, surveillance and airlift capability”. Panetta’s comments were echoed by US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, who said on Monday that US government representatives were continuously consulting with French officials “on a number of requests for support”. Late on Monday, France’s Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius told The Associated Press that Washington was already assisting French forces in Mali with “communications and transport”. The news agency also reported that the Pentagon’s intelligence support to the French intervention force included the services of at least one unmanned drone. Its correspondent spoke to an unnamed “senior US official” who said that American intelligence support to French troops “had started”, but added that negotiations were ongoing to determine the exact form of aid needed by the French. He refused to provide details of Washington’s intelligence-gathering activities in Mali and in neighboring countries.

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