US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta has applauded France’s surprise airstrikes on Islamist rebels in northern Mali that began late last week and continued over the weekend.
By Carey L. Biron as published by our partner IPS
Panetta added that the US government is readying plans for assistance in the ongoing operations, which scholars and human rights workers worry could continue for an extended period.
“I commend France for taking the steps that it has, and we have promised...to provide whatever assistance we can to try to help them in that effort,” Panetta told reporters on Monday.
“We have a responsibility to make sure that al-Qaeda does not establish a base for operations in North Africa and Mali,” he continued. “The effort is to try to do what is necessary to halt [rebel] advances and to try to secure some of the key cities in Mali.”
On Friday, the French government authorised airstrikes and ordered 550 French troops into Mali, where for 10 months the massive northern section of the country has been under the control of a combination of Islamists, ethnic Tuareg nationalists and criminal gangs. In March, the weak government in Bamako fell to a military coup, creating a power vacuum in the north.
Since then the international community has debated how to proceed. While France, Mali’s former colonial power, has pushed a military option, others such as the United States and the United Nations have been more cautious.
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