Washington — The United States supports military action by France and the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to take back northern Mali from armed Islamist rebels.
"We support what the French are doing," said a senior State Department official, who asked not to be identified, January 16. "Their reasons for doing so are clear. It was to stop what appeared to be a major offensive by the rebels to move into the southern part of the country."
"If the rebels had been successful in their efforts, it might have meant a collapse of the Malian government and a larger control of the Malian territory by Al-Qaida in the Maghreb and rebels and Islamists."
The official said French forces have gone in at the request of the Malian government and ECOWAS and in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2085.
"This is primarily an African problem which has regional and international dimensions," the official said. "We believe it's important that the Africans themselves maintain a leadership role in recognition of where the problem is and how it could impact them most directly."
The United States is prepared to assist by arranging to airlift French and ECOWAS troops to Mali and by providing them with pre-deployment training and equipment, the official said. The official made it clear that the U.S. actions will be only in support of France and ECOWAS, avoiding direct assistance to the Malian government, in accordance with U.S. law.
U.S. law bans all assistance except humanitarian aid to a country in which a democratically elected government is overthrown by the military, which happened to Mali in 2012.
The official said the stabilization of Mali requires three elements: breaking the grip of the rebels on northern Mali, notably the liberation of the cities of Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal; negotiating a credible and durable solution to the political grievances of the people in northern Mali, particularly the Tuaregs; and establishing a road map and a timetable for the return of democracy to Mali.
The official said a restoration of democracy is critical because "you must have a credible government in order to prevent a recurrence of instability after stability has been restored."
According to State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, "It's incumbent on the government to represent, work with, address the views of the entire population so that groups are not left vulnerable."
She said when a military has grievances with an elected government, the answer is not to overthrow it. "It is to have a democratic discussion about how to improve the situation, how to broaden the approach that is being undertaken, to work through your parliament, to work with your leaders."