By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 5, 2012 – Northern Mali has become a terrorist haven, and DOD will continue to work with local African nations and regional organizations to isolate and degrade the threat emanating from the area, a senior defense official told Congress today.
Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and its affiliates are using northern Mali as a safe haven, Amanda J. Dory, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, said during testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The terror groups have established administrative centers and training bases in the area, Dory said.
“Our approach is to support Mali’s neighbors, to isolate the terrorist threat and to enable [the Economic Community of West African States] and others to degrade AQIM while working to restore Malian sovereignty,” she said.
DOD and interagency partners are working closely together to help this local and regional effort, Dory said.
In late March, the Malian military launched a coup against the government. Regional nations and the U.S. initially imposed sanctions against the military junta. While local nations have recognized the interim government, the United States has not. The U.S. military cannot legally provide aid to any government deposed by a military coup.
Northern Mali is a center for illicit trafficking networks that include drugs, people and now extremism, Dory said.
“Beyond the obvious threat to Mali’s citizens and its neighbors, the growing terrorist presence in Mali also threatens U.S. citizens and interests in the region, to include the ability to attack embassies and conduct kidnapping operations,” she said.
ECOWAS will lead the military intervention in Northern Mali, and that regional group will work closely with the African Union, Dory said.
The Department of Defense, through U.S. Africa Command, is actively supporting the military planning effort, she said.
“This is very much an African-led process,” Dory said. “Our efforts are aimed at making our partners more capable of combating the terrorist threat in their territories, and providing better security for their people.”
American assistance includes training and equipping African forces preparing to deploy to northern Mali, advice and additional planning support, Dory said.