The first U.S. troops arrived in Mali Friday, a change of policy after Washington had taken a mostly hands-off approach roughly one year ago.
The first U.S. troops arrived in Mali Friday, a change of policy after Washington took a relatively hands-off approach during the French invasion roughly one year ago. A small number of U.S. troops are now in place, aiding the 4,000 French troops on the ground in combat roles.
“About 10” U.S. ground troops are in the country, assigned to “liaison support” for French and African troops. According to Lt. Col. Robert Firman, a Pentagon spokesman, the troops are currently in noncombat roles. Twelve other U.S. troops are assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Bamako, the capital. The number of U.S. troops could grow considerably if the crisis deepens.
The increasing U.S. presence in Mali follows promises made by U.S. members of Congress during a visit to the country in February.
“After there is a full restoration of democracy, I would think it is likely that we will renew our direct support for the Malian military,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Africa sub-committee. Sen. Coons was part of a Congressional delegation visiting Mali during a one-day visit.
Coons was accompanied by Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Rep. Karen Bass (D- Calif.) and Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.).
The Malian state collapsed in a March 2012 coup. Tuareg peoples seeking to reclaim their ancestral homeland drove out the Malian military, seizing control over the northern two-thirds of the country and unilaterally declaring the independent state of Azawad with Timbuktu as its capital the following month.
Al-Qaeda, Ansar Dine and other terrorists poured in through porous borders, triggering an international invasion by France at the beginning of 2013. The U.S. appeared slow to enter the conflict, choosing to provide background support for the coalition of troops already on the ground. The Obama administration has gradually bolstered the U.S. presence in neighboring countries, a sign of a larger invasion in the future.
In a July 2012 report, the Washington Post reported that the Pentagon spent $8.1 million to upgrade a forward operating base and airstrip in Mauritania, on the western edge of the Sahara near Mali.
The Defense Department also set aside $22.6 million in July to buy a Pilatus PC-6 aircraft and another turboprop plane so U.S.-trained Mauritanian security forces can conduct rudimentary surveillance operations, according to documents submitted to Congress.
France spearheaded the international intervention of Mali, dispatching 800 troops to Mali at the beginning of 2013. French President Francois Hollande then soon decided to increase troop presence to 4,000.
What once appeared to be a small, temporary invasion has now become a permanent one as French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced last month that his country will have a permanent occupation force of about 1,000 troops.