U.S. could resume direct Mali military aid if elections successful

Mon Feb 18, 2013 4:50pm EST
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By Pascal Fletcher

BAMAKO, Mali (Reuters) - The United States is likely to eventually resume direct support for Mali's military, but only after full restoration of democracy through elections, the head of a visiting U.S. Congress delegation said on Monday.

Senator Christopher Coons, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Africa, was leading the first American congressional visit to the West African nation since France sent a military force there last month to halt an offensive by al Qaeda-allied insurgents.

The United States has been providing airlift and refueling support for the French-led operation involving hundreds of French and African troops that has driven the Islamist rebels from a string of northern Malian towns in the last five weeks.

Washington has also been sharing intelligence to back the operation, but has ruled out sending its own ground troops.

Coons, heading a four-member delegation from the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, said both French and African military commanders were happy with the support that Washington was providing, but he indicated they might welcome more.

"There is the hope that there will be additional support from the United States in these and other areas," the Democratic Senator from Delaware told reporters in Bamako.

Asked if increased U.S. support for the military intervention could materialize, Coons said U.S. law prohibited direct assistance to Mali's armed forces because of the military coup there last year that toppled the elected government.

"After there is a full restoration of democracy, I would think it is likely that we will renew our direct support for the Malian military," he added.   Continued...

U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson (2nd L), U.S. Congresswoman Terri Sewell (3rd L), U.S. Senator Christopher Coons (3rd R), Force Commander Major General Shehu Abdulkadir (2nd R) and U.S. Congresswoman Karen Bass (R) pose for a picture at the Malian air base, where French soldiers are based, in Bamako February 18, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer (