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World Mali's political uncertainty draws US and France closer in Africa terrorist fight

21:16  18 september  2020
21:16  18 september  2020 Source:   washingtonexaminer.com

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The security situation and presence of al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists in the Sahel region of Africa is of mutual concern to both France and the United States as Mali deals with the fallout of an August coup.

Stephen Townsend wearing a uniform © Provided by Washington Examiner

U.S. Africa Command’s Army Gen. Stephen Townsend flew to Paris on Thursday to meet with French Chief of Defense Staff Gen. Francois Lecointre to discuss U.S.-France cooperation in Africa, where France maintains some 5,200 troops in the Sahel as part of its Operation Barkhane and where the U.S. retains approximately 1,000 troops across West Africa.

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“The U.S.-France relationship is very important to addressing areas of mutual national interest,” U.S. Air Force Col. Chris Karns told the Washington Examiner after the Paris meetings concluded. “The security situation in the Sahel is a mutual concern, considering how the area could become sanctuary for terrorist groups and create migration challenges for Europe."

French Army Col. Frederic Barbry told the Washington Examiner in July that continued intelligence, in-flight resupply, and tactical lift support to French and European partners in the Sahel is vital to the fight.

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A June airstrike by the French used U.S. intelligence support to kill top al Qaeda commander Abdelmalek Droukdel and several of his close associates operating in northern Mali.

“We couldn’t let a terrorist regime set up at the doors of Europe,” Barbry said via video chat from the French Joint Defense Staff headquarters in Paris. Barbry described U.S. capabilities in Africa as “essential and critical.”

U.S. fight in Africa in doubt

With the overthrow of a civilian government in Mali, AFRICOM tried to assure defense reporters last week that the terrorist fight continues in a country and region that has emerged as a terrorist safe haven.

“Clearly, we follow all the State Department guidance and, in terms of that relationship, [are] looking to continue our work and focus on counterterrorism operations in the country,” AFRICOM Deputy Director of Intelligence Rear Adm. Heidi Berg told the Washington Examiner on a media call on Friday.

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Following the Aug. 18 coup, the U.S. suspended military aid to Mali.

At the time, U.S. Special Envoy for the Sahel J. Peter Pham said that there would be "no further training or support of the Mali armed forces.”

Berg said the suspension will not affect intelligence-sharing in the counterterrorism realm.

“From the U.S. military standpoint, we continue to look to provide the kind of coordination support as we look at that transition period,” she told the Washington Examiner. “The intelligence-sharing relationship is focused on counterterrorism operations.”

U.S. Africa Command is awaiting the results of Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s blank slate review, which aims to redirect combatant command budgets to focus on great power competition with China and Russia. President Trump’s July announcement of a 9,500-troop drawdown from bases in Germany also leaves AFRICOM, slated to depart its Stuttgart headquarters, without a new home.

The budget review could affect training and support operations, including recently initiated training by the Army’s Security Force Assistant Brigades, which tool up partner nations to provide their own security.

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Karns said the meetings with French defense officials were meant to reassure them of their vital role in Africa and address other areas of mutual concern.

“The meeting provided reassurance of the value U.S. Africa Command places on its partnership with the French,” he said. “Africa presents a dynamic situation when you consider China's future plans, Russian activity, the situation in Mali, and the fact [that] terrorists seek a foothold and sanctuary in the Sahel.”

Tags: News, National Security, Department of Defense, Pentagon, Mark Esper, France, Mali, sahel, Africa, Terrorism, Germany, Donald Trump, State Department

Original Author: Abraham Mahshie

Original Location: Mali's political uncertainty draws US and France closer in Africa terrorist fight

Mali's new interim leader stands by handover, international accords .
Mali's interim president, Bah Ndaw, was sworn into office on Friday after last month's putsch, vowing to hand over power within 18 months, honour international accords and pursue the fight against jihadist insurgents. But his promises failed to shift post-coup sanctions by Mali's neighbours, which warned their clamp would remain in place until a civilian prime minister is named. Ndaw, a 70-year-old retired colonel, was named interim president by a committee appointed by a military junta that toppled the elected head of state, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, on August 18.

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