By Adem Amine, Siham Ali and Jemal Oumar
The American official made the remarks Sunday (September 30th) in Algiers at the end a regional tour that included previous stopovers in Nouakchott and Rabat.
“We first need to re-establish a legitimate government in Bamako, meet the pressing needs of the people, deal with the serious humanitarian crisis ravaging the region and finally tackle the terrorist groups,” General Ham said. He stressed that “the only alternative which could not exist is the American military presence in northern Mali”.
Northern Mali is currently controlled by an assemblage of radical Islamist groups, ranging from Ansar al-Din to the al-Qaeda splinter group Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO).
“One of the aspects of my visit to Algeria is to improve my understanding of the situation and to find out which terrorist groups are active in the region,” General Ham continued.
This was the fourth visit by the AFRICOM commander to Algeria. As has become customary, he was invited to meet President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. According to an official statement, the meeting was attended by Abdelmalek Guenaïzia, the minister delegate to the national defence ministry, Abdelkader Messahel, the minister delegate for Maghreb and African affairs, and Ahmed Gaid Salah, the chief of staff of the National Popular Army (ANP).
“The visit to Algiers by AFRICOM’s commander-in-chief is part of regular consultations between the two countries, and comes on the eve of the strategic Algeria-United States talks due to take place in Washington on October 19th,” the official statement said.
The Algiers visit came on the heels of General Ham’s talks with Moroccan officials in Rabat as part of the Atlantic Dialogue, held September 28th-30th.
At a press briefing on Friday (September 28th) at the US Embassy in Rabat on “the impact and prospects of the Sahel crisis on regional and international security”, the high-ranking American military officer stressed the dangers threatening the region. Those dangers, he said, have a cross-border dimension. He raised the alarm over the expansion of terrorist activities led by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other extremist organisations.
Despite the dangers in northern Mali, the American official downplayed any possible US intervention, saying it would only complicate matters.
“What matters most is support for the Malian government to help it restructure its military forces. That objective will be realised by training their military and providing the right equipment,” he said.
General Ham said it was up to the Malian government to turn to the international community through the United Nations Council to find the right solution.
As for Morocco, Foreign Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani said that priority should be given to helping Mali recover its territorial integrity and fighting the terrorist and criminal acts being perpetrated against the country’s population.
He also noted the overriding need to help countries within the region strengthen their security institutions and ensure better control of their borders to deal with terrorism, transnational organised crime and smuggling of all kinds.
General Ham welcomed Morocco’s contribution to developing a local approach to deal with problems in the region. He announced his willingness to work with Morocco in that respect.
The visit by the top American official was marked by discussions with Moroccan military officials around the planning of new exercises by AFRICOM forces. Meetings also looked at the possibility of organising joint exercises and consolidating co-operation with Morocco.
The Morocco trip follows a stopover in Nouakchott for the American commander where he met with Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and his defence minister at the presidential palace. Mauritanian Army Chief of General Mohamed Ould Ghazaouni and US ambassador in Nouakchott Jo Ellen Powell also attended.
The results of the several hours-long meeting with the Mauritanian President and security officials weren’t officially announced.
However, Mohamed Salem al-Sheikh, an expert in the Sahel and security developments in the region, told Magharebia, “The US interests which intersect with Mauritania in security and counter-terrorism issues are also priorities that make co-ordination and consultation between military and security leaders in both countries an on-going issue.”