28 January 2013

Mali: U.S. State Department Daily Press Briefing: Mali


Excerpt from the United States Department of State daily press briefing:



QUESTION: As the French forces and West African forces push Islamists, AQIM, north, is the United States working with Algeria to ensure that the Algerian-Malian border is secured so that these Islamist or AQIM folks don't just keep moving north?

MS. NULAND: Well, we have obviously been working with Algeria all the way through. It has its own ties into northern Mali, its own view on the situation. As you know, when the Secretary was in Algiers in October, this was a very intense topic of conversation. We've obviously been in conversation with them since, and particularly in light of the hostage-taking of a week and a half ago.

Just to confirm what you've probably already seen-- that on the French wish list of ISR lift and aerial refueling, we have now gone forward as well with the aerial refueling and that has begun.

QUESTION: Does this mean--

QUESTION: Is it still your --

QUESTION: Oh, sorry.

QUESTION: Is it still your position that there can be - that there should be new elections on schedule, which I think is like April, and is that reasonable given what's going on there now?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we have said all along that there has to be more than a purely security solution to the problems in Mali, that the security track and the political track have to go hand-in-hand, that a key component of returning stability to Mali includes new elections and overturning the results of the coup firmly. The date had been in April. I think, obviously, we're not going to prejudge whether security's going to be restored in a manner that's going to enable that.

What we want is a national unity conversation about what's appropriate and security standards so that elections can go forward as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Toria, just to go back to your previous answer, do you believe that in agreeing to provide air-to-air refueling capability for French aircraft over Mali, or travelling to Mali, that you are becoming - that the U.S., that the United States is becoming a co-belligerent in this conflict?

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously we have a number of legal things to work through, which is what took a little bit of time. With regard to the precise legal underpinnings here, I'm going to send you to our brothers and sisters at the Department of Defense. What I will say is that the U.S. military is not going to be engaged in combat operations in Mali, and we don't expect U.S. forces to become directly involved on the ground in combat either. So this is a discrete set of missions in support of our French ally in the efforts that they are making to support the people of Mali.


QUESTION: Toria, can you give us an assessment of what's happening on the ground in Mali? Because there are reports that fighters have been expelled from Gao, airports and roads around Timbuktu, and this building had guided us towards that definition - the U.S. definition of stability, including expelling rebels from those two particular towns.

What is the U.S. view now?

MS. NULAND: Well, let me start by saying I think with regard to the precise ground situation and the advances that French and Malian troops have been able to make, you're going to get the best ground information from the French, obviously. But we've, obviously, seen the reports that French and Malian forces now control all the access roads to Timbuktu, including the roads in and out of the city and the airport. We're awaiting confirmation of these reports from the French or from others.

We've also seen reports that French troops have seized and secured the entrance and the airfield in Gao, and we have unconfirmed reports that the terrorist elements have left Kidal. But beyond that, I don't have anything specific. We're also not able to confirm this report of damage to the historic library in Timbuktu.


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