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Washington (AFP) Jan 22, 2013
The United States will not demand payment from France for the use of US transport planes ferrying French forces and equipment to Mali, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
"We're not asking for compensation or reimbursement from the French," spokesman George Little told reporters.
"The focus right now is not on money but is on achieving our shared goal of holding militants in northern Mali."
An initial arrangement had assumed the French would reimburse Washington for airlifting troops, tanks and other hardware to Mali but the Americans have since dropped that requirement, a US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.
The Pentagon said the US Air Force had deployed C-17 cargo planes for five sorties as of Tuesday morning, carrying more than 80 French troops and 140 tons of supplies to the war-torn African nation.
The United States also was providing intelligence to Paris, drawing on its network of satellites and surveillance drones.
France has asked Washington help with refueling its warplanes taking part in the fight against Islamist fighters in Mali but President Barack Obama's administration has yet to approve the request.
Amid questions about the long-term goal of the French operation, the White House so far has taken a cautious approach to backing the French effort despite public declarations of support.
"It's been just over 10 days since the French began their operations. We have provided intelligence support and airlift as well and we're going to continue to work with the French to determine what their future needs might be," Little said.
He denied the administration was deliberately delaying any decision on refueling.
"This is not any kind of slow roll on our part. This is a deliberate effort to consult with the French to assess how best we can best support them in the context of support provided by other countries," he said.
The United States has a vast fleet aerial refueling tankers, far outstripping any other country or NATO ally.
The US military has about 414 tankers, according to the Defense Department, while France has 14, one of the larger fleets in Europe.
Britain open to French requests in Mali operation
Prime Minister David Cameron chaired a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) to discuss the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist rebels in Mali and the French military operation mounted against them.
Britain has already loaned two C-17 transport planes to France and pledged to provide troops to a European Union mission to train the Malian army, but is not considering sending its own forces to the west African country.
"The National Security Council agreed to consider very positively further French requests for logistical and surveillance support," a Downing Street spokesman told AFP.
"Discussions with the French government are ongoing.
"We strongly support the French military operation which was instigated at the request of the Malian government."
The NSC, which meets weekly, comprises 10 high-ranking government ministers. Other Cabinet ministers plus defence and intelligence chiefs attend when required.
Cameron stressed on Monday that Britain was "not seeking a combat role" in Mali.
One possibility is that Britain would consider extending the two-week loan on the C-17s, which are long-range, strategic heavy-lift transport aircraft.
The planes are crewed by Royal Air Force personnel.
It is thought no final decisions were taken at Tuesday's meeting, with the French government and military still establishing what kind of support is most required for the operation.
Cameron has strongly backed French President Francois Hollande's decision to intervene in Mali but the support extends only as far as logisitics and surveillance.
France came to its former colony's aid 10 months after Mali lost over half its territory to Islamists who have enforced an extreme form of Islamic law in northern towns, amid rising fears that the vast area could become a new haven for Al-Qaeda.
Cameron said on Monday that North Africa was becoming a "magnet" for jihadists from other countries, and vowed to use Britain's presidency of the G8 this year to tackle terrorism.
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