US wants Qaida out of Mali

The US is likely to weigh options ranging from military assistance to direct strikes to drive a growing al-Qaida presence out of the coup-wracked African nation of Mali, a Pentagon official said on Thursday.

‘We cannot allow al-Qaida to sit in an ungoverned space and have a sanctuary and impunity,’ said Michael Sheehan, the Defense Department’s assistant secretary for special operations.

US officials first must find ways to work with the post-coup government in Bamako to combat the militants, Sheehan said at the Aspen Security Forum.

‘We have to accelerate that effort,’ he said, now that al-Qaida’s African branch, known as al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, essentially has taken over Mali’s northern region. Mali’s junta leaders handed power to an interim government after their revolt, but they still remain largely in control.

The coup leaders have rejected US assistance so far, but on Thursday said they would welcome a West African military intervention force to help recapture the north – the first indication that the coup leaders would accept foreign troops.

The proposal for a 3,000-member military intervention force is still awaiting approval from the UN Security Council.

Sheehan said ‘all options would be considered for what is a looming threat,’ including strikes on the militants.

Sheehan added that the US is discussing the situation with US allies France and Britain, who are equally concerned about al-Qaida’s spread.
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