State: Democratic Mali Will Get Further US Aid

French troops prepare for take-off inside a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster in Istres, France. The U.S. aided the French in moving a mechanized infantry battalion into Mali to fight al-Qaida.

A senior State Department official said Friday that the U.S. will not start providing Mali with U.S. military training or equipment until it returns to a democratic system of government.

The U.S. began airlifting French troops and equipment into Mali in January. The early assistance included a C-17 assigned to AFRICOM bringing a French mechanized infantry battalion into the country, the command said.

However, an expansion of aid from the U.S. will depend on a return to democracy in Mali, Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson told reporters at a breakfast meeting.

Mali had a democratic government until two coups carried out in 2012. The country's next election will occur in July.

"If Democracy returns [to Mali] we will immediately resume our development assistance, we will resume our military cooperation," Carson said. "But according to current law we cannot provide anything other than emergency assistance – food and health – to the Mali government."

The U.S. also wants to see a Mali government negotiate to end longstanding politically based conflicts with its minority Tuareg population and keep up its operations against the Al Qaeda backed Islamist Maghreb -- regional fighters who have allied themselves with the jihadist organization.

Carson said the Al Qaeda group operating in Mali is made up of Islamists from outside Mali and not a homegrown organization. The Tuareg, though traditionally nomadic, have had legitimate grievances with a succession of Mali governments that have never been seriously addressed.

Mali in recent years turned a blind eye to al-Qaida's growing presence in the northern part of the country because it served as a counter to Tuareg strength, according to reports.

The result has been conflict, though AQIM has emerged as the stronger fighters with better weapons and training, according to Carson.

"We must see a restoration of democracy [in Mali]. We must see negotiations with the Tuareg and we must see continued security advances against AQIM," he said.

France deployed military forces to Mali on Jan. 11 in response to Al Qaeda fighters stacking up a series of victories as they moved down from the north of Mali.

 Since then the French have been able to push al-Qaida out of the major cities, though it's widely believed the fighters have fallen back while they plan to conduct an insurgency emphasizing asymmetrical warfare tactics – suicide bombs and improvised explosive devices.

Carson, who oversees State operations for the 49 sub-Saharan African countries, said renewed U.S. military aid would mean Mali could again buy U.S. weapons, take part in a joint State Department-Defense Department regional counterterrorism program and have its military train so join in peacekeeping operations.

Carson also told reporters that the Pentagon's youngest combatant command has become critical in helping forge better ties between the U.S. and African countries.

Africa Command, or AFRICOM, puts all responsibility for African security operations under a single command where previously it was divided up among Southern Command, Pacific Command and European Command.

Now the military and State Department attachés assigned to the sub-Saharan countries fall under a single entity, which improves communication and cooperation, he said.

"AFRICOM has a lot of work to do across the continent … to help professionalize African militaries, train them and enhance their capacity to carry out military operations, help them to be better peacekeepers, and better integrate themselves into international forces," he said.

The command's work with African counterparts also helps instill the notion that the military must be subordinate to civilian control, he said, "and that the military has a responsibility to protect human rights, and not prey on populations."

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