US, France at Odds Over Mali Force

In this Pentagon file photo, a French-speaking U.S. Special Forces NCO advises a Malian military counter-terrorism unit while training on raid tactics at a military installation near Bamako, Mali.

UNITED NATIONS - France circulated a U.N. Security Council resolution Monday that would authorize the deployment of an African-led force to oust al-Qaida and allied militants who have seized northern Mali, but the United States wants the troops to be trained first for desert warfare, U.N. diplomats said.

There is agreement in the U.N.'s most powerful body that there must be a two-track solution, political and military, to try to wrest control of the north -an area the size of Texas - and successfully reunite Mali.

But the top U.S. military commander in Africa, Army Gen. Carter Ham, warned last week against any premature military action.

He stressed that negotiations are the best way and said that any military intervention done now would likely fail and set the precarious situation in northern Mali back "even farther than they are today."

The U.S. has had Special Forces troops in Mali for several years to provide training and along with European militaries has conducted exercises with Malian forces.

But the American Special Forces' presence in Mali most recently was in the news after a fatal car crash that killed soldiers and three women identified as Moroccan prostitutes. The accident on April 20 came a month after the U.S. suspended military relations with Mali, The Washington Post reported in July.

On Monday night, meanwhile, Mali's prime minister was arrested at his home by the soldiers who led Mali's recent coup -- further evidence of of the fraying political situation in the once stable West African nation.

Prime Minister Cheikh Modibo Diarra was planning to leave for Paris on Monday night when the soldiers arrived at around 10 p.m., said two officials, both of whom requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

The prime minister was forced into a car and driven to the Kati military camp, a sprawling military base where the March 21 coup was launched under the orders of coup leader Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo.

The UN Security Council is united on the need for a roadmap for a political transition, the diplomats said. But it is divided on the speed of military action, with the U.S. recommending a slower, two-stage authorization process, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the draft and proposed U.S. amendments have not been made public.

France, backed by African nations, supports a single resolution that would authorize the training and deployment of Malian and African troops. But the U.S. - backed by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon - wants a slower military process because it is concerned about the African soldiers' lack of training in desert fighting, their capabilities, and equipment, the diplomats said.

Mali was plunged into turmoil in March after a coup in the capital of Bamako created a security vacuum. That allowed the secular Tuaregs, who have long felt marginalized by Mali's government, to take half the North as a new homeland. But months later, the rebels were ousted by Islamist groups allied with al-Qaida. The Islamists have now imposed strict Shariah law in the north.

On Nov. 13, the African Union asked the Security Council to endorse a military intervention to free northern Mali. African nations have since been lobbying for speedy authorization. The plan, agreed to by leaders of the West African bloc known as ECOWAS, calls for 3,300 soldiers to be deployed to Mali for an initial period of one year.

In a report to the Security Council late last month, Ban reacted cautiously to the proposal, saying fundamental questions on how the international force and Malian security and defense force "would be led, sustained, trained, equipped and financed remain unanswered." He added that outside support will be needed to train, equip, and provide logistics and funding for both forces.

The French draft would authorize the African-led International Support Mission for Mali, which would be known as AFISMA, and include provisions for training and political reconciliation, the diplomats said.

The U.S. has proposed three amendments to the French draft which would keep the political and training elements but leave the military authorization for a second resolution.

The key U.S. amendment would express the Security Council's intention to authorize AFISMA to conduct Africa-led counterterrorism operations in the north of Mali using "all necessary measures," one diplomat said.

It would require the secretary-general to immediately provide military and security planners to assist ECOWAS and the African Union, in close consultation with Mali, its neighbors and regional countries, and all other interested bilateral partners and international organizations "in the joint planning effort to refine the strategic concept," the diplomat said.

The U.S. amendment asks the secretary-general to report to the council within 45 days on the details of such a mission, including who will provide troops, its objectives, command and control, logistics and cost estimate, the diplomat said.

Experts from the 15 council nations are scheduled to meet Tuesday to discuss the French text and the proposed amendments, the diplomats said.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said Friday he doesn't expect a military offensive to oust al-Qaida to begin until September or October of next year because of the need for training and the rainy season in Mali.

Associated Press reporter Baba Ahmed reported from Mali. also contributed to this report.

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Africa France al-Qaida