Pentagon considering Air Force support for intervention in Mali

The Obama administration hasn't ruled out having the Air Force play a lead role in transporting troops and equipment for an African-led intervention to dislodge militant Islamists in Mali, the Pentagon's top Africa official said Wednesday.

The United Nations Security Council is weighing whether to approve a West African force of about 3,300 troops to take over the desert expanses of the country's northern half, which broke away following a March coup. Mali's neighbors and western countries are worried that the Texas-sized area has become the world's largest safe haven for militant Islamists, but U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has raised questions about the plan's viability, and the Obama administration favors a cautious approach.

“The logistical planning is still nascent,” the Pentagon's deputy assistant secretary for Africa, Amanda Dory, told reporters in a short hallway interview after testifying at a Senate hearing on Mali.

“Part of it is related to maneuver and how the force would actually move, and that defines what the logistics would need to be. At this point we haven't ruled out — or in — what it is that the [Department of Defense] and [U.S. government] support would be.” 

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Mali and its neighbors oppose any intervention by non-African troops. The United States, however, is involved in advising the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS), which is putting the intervention force together. 

Dory said the Pentagon is envisioning training, equipping, advising and supporting the international military force, “but whether it would entail logistics or not, we haven't determined yet.”

“The logistical requirements haven't been defined and then the role of who will help support has not been defined to include the U.S. portion,” she said. “Beyond the boots that are contributing to the planning process, we're not envisioning that this would be a U.S. boots-on-the-ground type of operation.”

She noted, however, with regard to Air Force pilots and other aviation personnel, “well, they are in the air” — not on the ground.