US official: Mali intervention 'could take years'

AP News
Posted: Jan 28, 2013 12:10 PM

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — The French-led military intervention in Mali could take years, a U.S. official warned on Monday.

A State Department official for Africa said the U.S. would like to see an African-led, -owned and -directed operation like the one that successfully pushed militants out of Somalia's capital after several years of warfare. But Don Yamamoto warned that intervention could take years before finding success.

"This is only the first phase. It is going to take time. I think people should not be into the illusion that it is going to be quick," said Yamamoto, the principal deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

"It is going to take a long time and time means that it could take several years. And you got do it right," Yamamoto told The Associated Press on the sidelines of the African Union summit in Ethiopia.

The U.S. has been providing military transport to help move French troops and equipment. The U.S. flew one refueling mission on Sunday, delivering 33,000 pounds of fuel, the U.S. Africa Command said.

The U.S. is also assisting six African countries: Niger, Chad, Nigeria, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Togo with "non-lethal equipment" and training, as well as transport to move troops to Mali, Yamamoto said.

Yamamoto also said the militants have advanced training from Libya under Moammar Gadhafi.

"A lot of the rebel groups that are now fighting in the region were under Gadhafi's troops. They were trained for over a decade. You have rebel groups that are well trained and well-armed and very aggressive. And so if you have any problems in governance in the country, that would allow these extremist groups to come and that's what happened in Mali," said Yamamoto.

He said a military offensive alone will not stabilize the West African country, and that dialogue between groups in the north and Bamako, the capital, should lead to an inclusive government formed by democratic elections.

Mali's military, which staged a coup last year to topple the country's democratically elected government, similarly forced a resignation of an interim prime minister in December.

The African Union on Saturday urged interim President Dioncounda Traore to put in place a roadmap to free and fair elections, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) says elections should take place in April.

Yamamoto said the April deadline may not be met but that elections should include the north and happen "as quickly and as technically as possible."

The African Union on Tuesday hosts a donors conference for Mali.