New Army unit heading to Africa Command

The Army's initial regionally aligned brigade assigned to the command will be part of an overarching Army realignment to focus on specific hot spots across the globe, Carter said in a Wednesday speech at the Association of the U.S. Army's annual conference in Washington. 

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Members of the Army's 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division will rotate into Africa Command's headquarters in Europe "and other regions to bolster our alliances and partnerships," according to Carter. 

Those units "will help building partner capacity through bilateral and multilateral training and theater security cooperation" in Africa and elsewhere, he added. 

Elements of the Army brigade will be broken down into smaller military cooperation units, no bigger than a traditional brigade combat team, and sent into Africa to conduct those training missions with allied countries. 

The new Army units and their assignment to Africa Command comes as U.S. military officials and diplomats are weighing options on how to deal with al Qaeda's growing presence in Mali. 

Senior American and French officials met in Paris on Monday as part of a two-day summit to discuss the increasingly unstable security situation in the West African country. 

Insurgent fighters with ties to al Qaeda's Africa cell, known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), have established a stronghold in the northern part of Mali in the wake of a successful coup in the country. 

Gen. Carter Ham, head of Africa Command, told reporters in July that AQIM has quietly emerged as the al Qaeda's strongest and best funded faction.

That said, the United Nations recently authorized Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to help Mali draft a counterterrorism plan to regain control of the north. Recent efforts by the Malian military to flush out the group have been unsuccessful. 

Most recently, Paris has agreed to deploy a number of unmanned surveillance drones to the region, in an attempt to support the Malian government's offensive against the terror group, according to The Associated Press. 

Bamako, Mali's capital, has been a long-time American ally in Africa, with U.S. special operations forces attached to Joint Special Operations Command-Trans Sahara conducting a number of military training operations with Mali over the past several years. 

However, the Pentagon remains adamant that it is not planning to play a direct role in efforts to push out al Qaeda fighters from Mali. 

While DOD is "paying very close attention to the situation in the region," any American response to the situation in Mali will focus on bolstering efforts by local governments, Pentagon press secretary George Little said earlier this month. 

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reiterated that sentiment during a press conference with South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan Jin at the Pentagon on Wednesday. 

"I believe the effort now ought to be to work with nations in that region to ensure that al Qaida does not develop [a] base in Mali. But it ought to be an effort that is developed in conjunction with other countries in the region that share the same concern," according to Panetta. 

When pressed on whether the department was considering playing a military role in that effort, Panetta said the Pentagon is "prepared ... to discuss with our regional partners a plan that would deal with that threat and how to respond to it."