U.S. expands aid to French mission in Mali

The Washington Post reports: The United States is significantly expanding its assistance to a French assault on Islamist militants in Mali by offering aerial refueling and planes to transport soldiers from other African nations, the Pentagon announced Saturday night.

The gesture comes amid a debate within the Obama administration about how deeply it should engage in the French effort to prevent Islamists from wresting control of the West African nation. French requests for more robust support from Washington raised a legal dilemma because U.S. law forbids foreign assistance funds to leaders that came to power through a coup. Mali’s military leaders, including some trained by U.S. troops, seized power last year by force.

“The French requested this support, and we believe it was important to move ahead,” a senior defense official said Saturday night, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss policy deliberations. “The U.S. has the most advanced refueling technology in the world, and we wanted to provide this support.”

The United States has concluded that the expanded assistance is legally sound because of France’s notification to the United Nations Security Council that its mission in Mali is being offered at the request of the African country’s government, which is fighting “terrorist elements,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. James Gregory said in a statement.

“Under these circumstances, the U.S. can lawfully provide support to France’s efforts in the armed conflict in Mali,” Gregory said. Gregory said the coup bars “foreign assistance funds,” not military support. [Continue reading…]

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