McCain calls for US military expansion in Mali

During a visit to the Malian capitol of Bamako on Tuesday, McCain told reporters the Pentagon needed to step up its investment in Mali, by moving U.S. advisers and equipment into the country, Reuters reports. 

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"We will work with the French forces, assess the French and allied forces on the ground, and see to what extent we can provide equipment, training, and technology to rid Mali of these rebels which include al Qaeda," according to McCain, who traveled to Africa with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) 

McCain did not provide any details on what kind of specific training and equipment the DOD should offer to the Malian military. 

But the Arizona Republican did say that U.S. support should also help the country's ongoing battle against narcotraffickers who use Mali as a transit point for moving drugs into Eastern Europe. 

McCain's comments come as French forces are preparing to wind down their four-month counterterrorism campaign in Mali against fighters from al Qaeda's West African cell, known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM), who had taken over the northern part of the country. 

With the help of U.S. intelligence and airlift assets, French forces were able to flush out AQIM fighters from the northern city of Gao and group's various strongholds in northern Mali. 

But with Paris now planning to pull most of its 4,000-man force out of Mali and hand control of those operations to Malian and regional forces by the end of the year, it remains unclear whether those troops can maintain the gains made by the French. 

AQIM forces have already begun to strike back against French positions in southern Mali, most recently claiming responsibility for a spate of terrorist attacks in Timbuktu last weekend. 

If the DOD decides to take on a larger role in Mali and elsewhere in western Africa, U.S. forces in the region may not have the resources to meet that demand. 

Outgoing Africa Command Chief Gen. Carter Ham told House members in March that lack of resources is forcing U.S. commanders to make some "sharp prioritization" decisions in where to focus the command's limited assets. 

Nowhere in the command has that pressure been felt more than in the organization's intelligence operations, Ham told members of the House Armed Services Committee. 

Military intelligence officials in the command have focused those limited assets on hot spots on the continent, such as Somalia, Mali and Libya, according to the four-star general. 

"That's been pretty effective ... but it has left us short in other areas across the continent," he said at the time.