The New York Times, by Michael R. Gordon (Algiers, Algeria, Oct. 29, 2012) — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived in Algeria on Monday as the United States sought to coordinate support for an emerging international effort to push Islamic militants out of northern Mali.
“One of the things that the secretary wants to talk about is how we would see this working,” said a senior State Department official before a scheduled meeting between Mrs. Clinton and the Algerian president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
An array of Islamist militant groups have seized control of northern Maliki, including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Northern Mali has emerged as a haven for terrorists.
Earlier this month, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution underscoring its “readiness” to send an international force to evict the militants in response to a request from a Mali government.
While a military plan has yet to be drafted, the basic idea is for forces from Nigeria and other West Africa countries to help Mali’s military mount a campaign against the militants. France, the United States, and other countries would help with training, intelligence and logistics.
American and French officials have already met in Paris to discuss how to cope with the security situation in Mali and Mrs. Clinton’s trip to Algeria follows a similar visit by France’s foreign minister.
American officials indicated that they were not asking Algeria to send troops to Mali but wanted to discuss the role it might play while West Africans and Mali’s military provide the “boots on the ground.” As a regional power and Mali’s neighbor to the north, Algeria’s political support for such a campaign is essential, diplomats say. Algeria, which waged a brutal war against militants in its own country and is Mali’s neighbor to the north, also has one of the strongest militaries in the region as well as active intelligence service. It includes an intelligence center in the southern city of Tamanrasset that Algeria, Niger, Mali and Mauritania have set up to coordinate efforts against Al Qaeda and other regional threats.
“There is a strong recognition that Algeria has to be a central part of the solution,” according to a second American official, who said that the situation in northern Mali would be a “central focus” of Mrs. Clinton’s talks.
Algeria has not always been supportive of an international effort in Mali, particularly since the prospect of a military campaign in Mali risked pushing the militants north into Algerian territory. But as security in Mali continued to deteriorate the Algerians, dropped their objections.
“There is a Malian institutional crisis,” Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci said in an Oct. 19 interview at an international meeting on Mali in Bamako. “The Algerians are ready to help.”
The worsening situation in Mali is the result of a number of factors. As Algeria pressed its fight against militants on its own territory, many of the Qaeda-affiliated fighters headed to the lightly policed region in northern Mali.
Meanwhile, the fall of Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya prompted ethnic Tuareg rebels from Mali, who had been fighting alongside Col. Qaddafi’s forces, to return to northern Mali with weapons they had taken from Libya’s arsenals. Together with their Islamist allies, they easily chased out the Malian Army, weakened by a coup d’etat in the capital, from the country’s north in late March and early April. The Islamists then chased out the Tuaregs and seized control in May and June.
After Algeria, Mrs. Clinton will visit Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo, Croatia and Albania.
Adam Nossiter contributed reporting from Dakar, Senegal.