Monday, January 28, 2013

Mali is a source of tension between France and the United States

The French military intervention in Mali rekindles tensions between France and the United States on issues of international security, U.S. support to the efforts of Paris has been so far, "minimal", as admitted an official of the Obama administration.

According to officials from both sides of the Atlantic, the French complain lean and private support Americans in their late intervention, in its third week against the Islamist fighters into northern Mali.

Barack Obama and his entourage to ask them if France reflected on an exit strategy before embarking on the ground.

This attitude of the White House confounds critics of the U.S. president, who accuse him already excessive caution in Libya in 2011 and the current crisis in Syria.

François Hollande spoke briefly by telephone with President Barack Obama Thursday, Jan. 10 to inform him that France was about to launch a major military operation in Mali.

Faced with the urgency, the French president called his U.S. counterpart to inform, not to consult, insist officials of the two countries. The Ambassador of France to Mali had just sent a message to Paris to warn the city of Mopti was about to fall into the hands of Islamist rebels and then nothing could stop them from going to the capital Bamako and thus control the entire country.

January 11, France triggered its first aerial bombardment.

"If we had not intervened, the whole region would become a new Sahelistan," says a French official.

In Washington, the willingness of France has encountered a concern about the longer-term consequences of such intervention and the reluctance of the White House to engage the U.S. military in another conflict as Barack Obama just starting his second term.

The United States say they have provided valuable support in terms of intelligence the French forces in Mali. They also participated in the movement of French troops and equipment to the country.


France expects more, both from the United States and its European partners. Priority, it needs the U.S. capabilities aerial refueling for its fighter jets, say French officials.

A U.S. official says the French request has been actively considered in Washington.

Indeed, U.S. support was "minimal," admits a senior U.S. official who requested anonymity. According to the latter, the Obama administration gave the "hard time" when the French sought greater support and they "recall".

When Barack Obama came to power in 2009, the United States was engaged in two costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, two conflicts that, for various reasons, have raised tensions with France. Since then, the U.S. president has been reluctant to any external military intervention on the ground. Too reluctant to even taste his Republican opponents.

Barack Obama in 2011 and limited the participation of the United States to the NATO intervention, under French and British leadership in Libya, which has contributed to the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. It also continues to resist pressure to support more assertive Syrian rebels seeking to overthrow Bashar al-Assad.

U.S. officials in the White House and Congress, have differing views on how to proceed about Mali, is Republican Mike Rogers, chairman of the Intelligence Committee in the House of Representatives.

"This is not new (...) There is an ongoing debate on our level of involvement in Syria. We had exactly the same debate about our involvement in Libya and we now have the same impasse even philosophical debate about what we need to do against the French on Mali, "says Mike Rogers.

Barack Obama and his staff "refused to be forcing the hand by the French initiative," said Todd Moss, vice president of thinktank Center for Global Development and former director in the Bureau of African Affairs at the State Department .

"There are very few, if not none, political support for U.S. military intervention in a place like Mali," he adds.


In a telephone interview with François Hollande Friday, Barack Obama "expressed his support to France for taking the lead of the international community to deny terrorists a haven in Mali," the White House announced.

According to the American presidency, François Hollande thanked Obama for "strong support" provided by the United States.

Even before the start of the French military operation, the U.S. slowed for months for a possible international intervention in Mali, which has been a source of friction between Paris and Washington to the UN.

Educated by the previous Libyan when he took several weeks before Americans decide the level of involvement, France has decided to act immediately when Islamists have resumed their advance to the south of Mali, French officials reported.

One of them even qualify posture Barack Obama virtually "isolationist".

Spokesman for the White House, Tommy Vietor said: "We continue to share the French objective of preventing terrorists have a hideout in the area and we support the French operation."

The United States, says he is trying to accelerate deployment, training and equipment of the African force supposed to come support efforts to reconquer the Malian army against the Islamists.

In private, U.S. officials are more skeptical and fear that the French are being launched on an adventure in Mali.

"I think it is no secret to anyone that the effort of the French army has evolved and developed over time, and in the process, we worked with them to get the picture as clear as possible not only their short term strategy but also how they see things in three months or three years, "said an official of the Obama administration.

France did not set a deadline for its intervention.

"The more we stay longer, the risk will be high," warns a French official.

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