Coons said Islamic extremists have taken over the northern part of the African country, Mali, and that the United States should support U.N. efforts to the humanitarian and political crises there.

“I believe it’s critical that the United States have a strong and comprehensive policy to deal with this,” Coons said on the floor Wednesday after he held a hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on African Affairs.

Coons said there is a security vacuum that has resulted in al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) taking over an area in northern Mali the size of Texas.

“AQIM may use northern Mali as a safe haven,” Coons said. “We ignore this at our own peril.”

“Northern Mali is the largest terrorist controlled area in the world.”

Coons said he did not support putting U.S. boots on the ground, yet said the U.S. involvement is crucial to returning Mali back to a successful and sustainable democracy.

The African Union and Western African nations have called on the United Nations Security Council to authorize an African-led military intervention in the country.