Excerpts from the United States Department of State daily press briefing:
QUESTION: On Mali?
MS. NULAND: Mali, yeah.
QUESTION: There have been increasingly harsher tones coming out of Paris both from the President, President Hollande, and the Defense Minister with regard to the determination of the French of going further to clean up this situation in Mali, whereas initially it was seen on the French side as a temporary operation by French troops which would be replaced by these ECOWAS. The French were not so inclined to get deeply involved in Francophone Africa for obvious reasons. They are treated like heroes, people are putting out French flags, but that's not going to last forever if the French remain a long time.
Now, after the statements of Prime Minister Cameron, the intervention, I think, of the EU is going to get involved in this. This looks like it's going to be a much longer war and more serious operation. What is the U.S. view of the situation as it's developing in Mali?
MS. NULAND: Well, let me just commend to you some of the comments that the Secretary made during her Benghazi hearings with regard to the challenge that we are all having to confront, not only in Mali but in the entire region. I think she obviously spoke quite eloquently about the challenge; that it's not only a security challenge but it's also a challenge of governance and democracy and values. Our understanding of the ground situation is that French and Malian forces have been able to have some success in recent days. We talked about Diabali the other day and Kona. They are now taking up positions in the city of Menaka, which is just to the east of Gao, and moving up into Gao and Timbuktu.
But you're not wrong that the strategy here depends on both Malian and ECOWAS forces being able to come in behind, secure the gains, not only hold them but extend them, and also prepare the country for a restoration of democracy through elections this spring. So in that context, as you know, in addition to supporting some of the French requests, we are focusing our efforts on facilitating the ECOWAS forces, the AFISMA forces to get into Mali. Our understanding is that there are currently some 600 AFISMA troops in Mali, including 44 African staff at ECOWAS headquarters. We've got 162 from Nigeria, 50 from Benin, 204 from Togo, 36 from Senegal, 159 from Burkina. And we have some 500-plus Nigerian troops on the Niger border getting ready to go in.
The U.S. is also, as we've been talking about, using our ACOTA facility to work with Niger, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Togo, Ghana in the coming weeks to ensure that they can sustain and continue these deployments, and with longer-term training in terms of what'll be necessary to not only come in behind the French, but also to train and support the Malian forces in eventually being able to secure their country themselves.
QUESTION: Your what facility? You said our --
MS. NULAND: Our ACOTA facility, which we've talked about before. I'll see if I've got it written out here - the African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance program. I think I'm going to - we're going to put out a fact sheet shortly on ACOTA. Yeah.
QUESTION: There's a P missing from the acronym at the end.
MS. NULAND: Is there?
MS. NULAND: African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance, ACOTA.
QUESTION: Staying - just moving slightly in the region, on Algeria, has there been any contact since the end of the hostage crisis between the Algerian authorities and the State Department to update you on how the attack at the oil facility took place, and their subsequent - the subsequent decisions that were made by the Algerian authorities in handling the situation and releasing the hostages?
MS. NULAND: Well, we are, obviously, in close contact with the Algerians, including via Ambassador Ensher on the ground there. I think I mentioned that we have an open FBI investigation now, so I'm not going to get into details, as that moves forward. But we, like the Algerians, are obviously looking to get a full understanding of exactly how this transpired and what the motives were and who was involved so that they can be brought to justice.
QUESTION: So that understanding hasn't evolved since we spoke on Tuesday?
MS. NULAND: I don't have anything to share. It certainly has evolved, but you understand that once these things become a matter of investigation, there's very - not a lot we can say until the investigations are complete.
QUESTION: New subject, ma'am?
MS. NULAND: Goyal quickly, and then we'll go to Scott, and poor old Dana that was way in the back and I missed her.
Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: I have two unrelated questions. The first is a follow-up to Mali, and I'm wondering about the funding for ACOTA and these troops. Has the State Department asked Congress for more money beyond the initial $8 million that was allocated, and how much?
MS. NULAND: We have, Dana. We have the 8 million that we already had, and then we've just notified Congress either yesterday or today requesting an additional 32 million for the ACOTA effort, and we will continue to evaluate what more we might need as we work with our African partners.
QUESTION: And secondly, I just wondered if you would be able to confirm that the specialty glasses that the Secretary is wearing have a Fresnel prism in them, or how long she's expected to wear the glasses.
MS. NULAND: Well, let me just say in response to lots of speculation, the Secretary is going to be wearing the glasses instead of her contacts for some period of time because of lingering issues that stemmed from her concussion. She sees just fine with them, and she also enjoyed some of the comments she saw in the press about the extra sort of diplomatic lift she gets from gesturing with them. So - all right?
QUESTION: May I just --
MS. NULAND: Thank you very much. I think we've gone a long while here, Goyal. Thanks.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: All right.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:59 p.m.)