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Russia offers to help French troop transport to Mali: Fabius
by Staff Writers
Paris (AFP) Jan 20, 2013

White House, Pentagon disagree over Mali: report
Los Angeles (AFP) Jan 18, 2013 - The White House and the US Defense Department are at odds over the danger posed by radical Islamic groups that have taken control of parts of Mali and are stirring up trouble in other parts of West Africa, The Los Angeles Times reported late Friday.

Citing unnamed US officials, the newspaper said the events in Mali and neighboring Algeria have prompted sharp debate within President Barack Obama's administration over whether these radicals present enough of a risk to warrant a military response.

Islamist militants associated with Al-Qaeda have seized control of a significant part of northern Mali, prompting France to launch a military operation there a week ago to prevent the rebels from capturing Bamako, the capital.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Friday that Paris had increased its troop numbers by 400 in a single day, from 1,400 Thursday to 1,800, "and the progress on our presence on the ground continues."

France plans to deploy 2,500 soldiers in the country.

As they watch these events unfold, some top Pentagon officials and military officers warn that without more aggressive US action, Mali could become a haven for extremists, akin to Afghanistan before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the report said.

But many top White House aides say it is unclear whether the Mali insurgents, who include members of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), could threaten the United States, the paper said.

Those aides worry about being drawn into a messy conflict against an elusive enemy in Mali just as US forces are withdrawing from Afghanistan, it noted.

"No one here is questioning the threat that AQIM poses regionally," the paper quoted one administration official as saying. "The question we all need to ask is, what threat do they pose to the US homeland? The answer so far has been none."

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Sunday that Russia had offered to help transport French troops and supplies to Mali and that Canada was to help to bring African troops to the country.

Asked on Europe 1 radio about how African troops would be transported, Fabius said "there is transportation that will be partly by the Africans themselves, partly by the Europeans and partly by the Canadians."

"And the Russians have proposed to provide means of transport for the French, so it's fairly diverse," he said.

The statement was the first indication that Russia would join other nations in providing logistical assistance to French forces fighting against Islamist militants in Mali who have seized control of the north of the country.

A French military offensive launched on January 11 -- initially restricted to air strikes before being extended to ground battles -- has halted the rebels' sweep into the government-controlled south.

France has so far sent about 2,000 troops to Mali and is waiting for the deployment of a UN-mandated force made up West African soldiers. Only about 100 African soldiers of a planned 5,800-strong African force have so far reached Mali.

Fabius said France hoped the African troops would arrive "as quickly as possible".


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