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U.S. commits almost $100 million in support of anti-terror forces in Mali
The U.S. is pressing its support of African nation-led efforts to push back the Islamist insurgency in Mali and has clinched a deal with Niger to that will facilitate closer monitoring of the north African region, which has become a safe haven for al Qaeda-linked terror groups.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nueland said in a Jan. 30 briefing the U.S. has earmarked $96 million in aid to the African-led International Support Mission (AFISMA) to Mali which is helping to push back the Islamist insurgency there.
Although Nuland didn’t directly confirm in her briefing that the U.S. has established a drone base in nearby Niger, she did say that after a year of work, the U.S. has signed a Status of Forces Agreement with that country’s government. News reports have said Niger has given permission for U.S. surveillance drones to be stationed on its territory to watch the al Qaeda-linked fighters in northern Mali and the Sahara region.
“I’m obviously not going to get into intelligence issues, but [the agreement] enables us to work more closely in military-to-military channels and other channels with the Government of Niger on issues that we share concerns about,” she said.
The U.S., said Nuland, is “pleased by the success” of French and Malian troops in rolling back extremists out of the southern regions of Mali, adding that French and Malian forces now control the cities of Timbuktu and Gao, as well as the airport in Kidal. She said the mayors of both towns, who had fled before the insurgency’s advance, had returned and resumed work.
Nuland said 1,400 African troops under the AFISMA mission will move in behind Malian forces and the French to stabilize northern Mali, going after the insurgents in the region to ensure that they don’t come back and regroup.
Nuland said the U.S. on Jan. 30 has earmarked a total of $96 million to support AFISMA troops, subject to congressional notification. The amount more than doubles the initial $40 million in support that had been announced on Jan. 28, according to Nuland. She said $8 million has been allocated to provide for basic logistical support for the initial Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) contingence, including immediate transport and equipment. Five million, she said, will go to assist ECOWAS formed police units that will start to deploy. The U.S. has also said the additional money will also be used for equipment, logistical support, and advisory support for AFISMA troops.