By Scott Stearns
The United States wants soldiers in Mali to accept an African outside intervention force to help fight al-Qaida affiliated terrorists in the north.
The Obama administration says the international community can not allow Muslim extremists in northern Mali to create a separate Islamic state.
“We do not need to see a fragmentation of Mali,” noted Johnnie Carson, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. “We do not need to see a Mali which has a Caliphate in the north. Nor do we need to see another state created which would not be economically sustainable or viable.”
When troops in the south toppled Mali’s government in a March coup, ethnic Tuareg fighters in the north expanded territory under their control. Militant groups Ansar Dine and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa have moved to enforce a strict version of Islamic law.
The terrorist group al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb has become more active. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says Mali-based extremists played a role in September’s attack on the U.S. mission in the Libyan city of Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Carson said terrorists are too powerful for transitional civilian authorities in Mali.
“Many of their senior leadership and membership are comprised of non-Malians,” he said. “People who have come in from the region, who have come in Algeria, who have come in from Mauritania, who have come in from Libya and other places. This is a terrorist group and the response to that must be a security, military response.”
In an interview with VOA, Carson said Mali’s military should accept an intervention force from the Economic Community of West African States, because the army is fractured by the flight of soldiers to Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.
“The Malian military has been broken. It is now in need of restructuring and repair and rehabilitation,” Carson explained. “It should accept the support, the camaraderie, the mentoring and the friendship of other ECOWAS states as it attempts to get itself together so that it can help address the issues of terrorism in the northern part of the country, as well as humanitarian support.”
Mali’s coup leaders and their political allies object to the presence of an ECOWAS force in the capital, Bamako.
Regional mediation agreed to elections within one year of the coup. Secretary Clinton says Mali should meet that April deadline “because only a democratically-elected government will have the legitimacy to achieve a negotiated political settlement in northern Mali, end the rebellion, and restore the rule of law.”
Many Malians believe the country should be reunited before holding elections for a new civilian government. Voting otherwise, they say, legitimizes Mali’s partition, giving northern extremists greater claim to a separate state.