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Obama administration weighs intervention in Mali

July 27, 2012 |  7:39 am

Mali-fighter
ASPEN, Colo. — The Obama administration is considering U.S. intervention to pressure Al Qaeda-inspired militants who have seized territory in the African nation of Mali.

Michael Sheehan, the Pentagon’s assistant secretary for special operations, was asked Thursday whether the United States would use targeted strikes or special operations troops to help the Malian government  fight the militants.

“All options are being considered” against “a looming threat,” Sheehan said. “There have been no decisions.”

Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum, a gathering of current and former national security officials, Sheehan said there was deep concern about the militants’ activities in northern Mali, which has fallen out of the control of Mali’s coup-led government in Bamako, the capital.

“We cannot allow Al Qaeda to sit in ungoverned places,” Sheehan said of northern Mali.

In March, a military coup ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure. A junta handed power to an interim government, but the junta's leaders, including Capt. Amadou Sanogo, still wield influence. The new government has been accused of brutal repression. The U.S. removed military trainers from Mali after the coup.

“Mali is a difficult situation because it starts with the government in Bamako,” Sheehan said. “We have to find a way to move forward with the government first, and I think we need to start to accelerate that effort.”

Sheehan declined to say what steps the U.S. might take, but he cited another African country beset by an Al Qaeda affiliate, Somalia, as a success story. The U.S. has supported Kenyan and Ethiopian incursions into Somalia that have pushed back Al Shabab, the Al Qaeda-linked militia, he said.

The U.S. is known to carry out drone strikes in Somalia.

Mali’s military said Thursday it would welcome a West African military intervention force to help recapture the north, where some militants are enforcing strict Islamic law.

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-- Ken Dilanian

Photo: A July 16 photo shows Islamic fighters in the courtyard of a police station in the town of Gao in Mali. Credit: Issouf Sanogo / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

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