October 23, 2012 by Joseph Fitsanakis
By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The government of France is holding secret talks with American and other Western officials to explore options for a concerted military intervention in Mali, according to diplomatic sources. A Tuareg rebellion in the northern part of Mali, which began earlier this year, culminated in the unilateral declaration of the Independent State of Azawad. The new state, which borders Algeria, Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso, is controlled by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA).
The NMLA is partially staffed by former members of the Libyan Army during the rule of Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi. But it is also said to incorporate armed members of Ansar Dine, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), all of which claim to have links with al-Qaeda. Many French observers view the Independent State of Azawad as the African version of mid-1990s Afghanistan, which eventually served as the base for Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda.
But even though the French government has come out in favor of armed intervention in northern Mali, it has denied persistent rumors that it is contemplating sending French troops in the West African country. Instead, Paris officially favors intervention by the Malian Army backed by African Union troops and using logistical support provided by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). However, in an article published yesterday, The Associated Press claimed that, behind the scenes, the French government is trying to convince the US and other Western countries to participate in a military intervention in Mali.
The article cited anonymous French and American diplomats in claiming that senior officials from both countries are secretly meeting in Paris this week to discuss “intelligence gathering and security” in Mali. The diplomats, who spoke to the news agency “on condition of anonymity”, said that participants in the secret meeting included US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson. The article also claimed that Paris intends to transfer several unmanned surveillance drones from Afghanistan to western Africa before the end of the year.
The AP reporter contacted a US State Department spokesman, who said he was unaware of any French military or done deployment in Mali, and added that Washington and Paris were closely working with African nations “on a plan to address the crisis”.