July 26th, 2012
04:50 PM ET

Defense official: U.S. needs to 'accelerate' effort to help Mali

By Dan Merica

Mali, a country bloodied by a violent March coup, has become a greater focus of U.S. counterterrorism attention, a Department of Defense official said Thursday.

In his opening statements at an Aspen Security Forum panel, Michael Sheehan, the assistant secretary for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflicts at the Department of Defense, expressed concern about the ungoverned territory of northern Mali - particularly because of a lack of control within Mali's coup-led government.

"Mali is a difficult situation because it starts with the government in Bamako," Sheehan said. "We have to find a way to move forward with the government first and I think we need to start to accelerate that effort."

Read all our coverage of the 2012 Aspen Security Forum

Mali's junta leader, Capt. Amadou Sanogo, usurped control of the African nation in March. Since then, his soldiers have been accused of looting offices and shops in the capital. The coup wrested control of the nation from former President Amadou Toumani Toure and gained the scorn of the international community - including the United States.

Sheehan went on to say that the area north of Mali's Niger River has become almost ungoverned and an area of focus for the Department of Defense.

"We cannot allow al Qaeda to sit in ungoverned places," Sheehan said of northern Mali.

Sheehan indicated the U.S. military is considering how to handle the problem.

"All those options will be considered," Sheehan said. "There have been no decisions and things would be considered and they are being concerned to what is a looming threat."

Additionally, Sheehan named other places that have become concerns for al Qaeda activity: Syria, Somalia and Yemen.

Even as the collapse of governments in the Middle East have many military and national security officials growing concerned about how al Qaeda may benefit from the turmoil, Sheehan says the United States has generally been successful in defeating the radical Islamist group.

But as Sheehan discussed al Qaeda's future in key areas, the general success he described began to look slightly less rosy.
"We see al Qaeda in Syria," Sheehan said. "They are very good at blowing things up but it remains to be seen if al Qaeda will find its way to participate (more fully) in the Arab revolutions."

Sheehan called Somalia a success story that nonetheless is in great need of work, and in Yemen, the defense official said a growing partnership with the Yemeni government signals movement in the right direction.

"That partnership is showing results on the ground, (even while) al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula ... is still the preeminent threat of attacks against the U.S."

Handicapping the overall success of al Qaeda in the future, Sheehan says "it still remains to be seen how effective the terrorist outfit will be in the future."

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Filed under: Africa • Al Qaeda • Aspen Security Forum • Mali
soundoff (29 Responses)
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    March 15, 2013 at 9:30 am | Reply
  2. Shezam

    Should true muslim believers be pulled apart by trucks?

    August 2, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Reply
  3. Philly G

    We cannot sit by as these fundamentalist try to take advantage of people who were previously unbothered by their domination. Sharia fundamentalism is not a welcomed lifestyle in that region. Living with the threat of being stoned to death or under an eye for an eye rule is a horrible. I would say letting Al Queda set up shop in a new territory is against US and global interests!

    August 2, 2012 at 11:26 am | Reply
  4. Jaimie

    What scares me is when you see millions of chinese soldiers marching. What do we do (USA) I never see that many american military personnel in one place in the media. And if Iran took over one of our spy drones what do you think the chinese can do. Scary thought.

    July 27, 2012 at 10:31 am | Reply
  5. Sodomite

    Wish I had the dough to invest in the companies who will surely continue to profit from us being in a state of constant war.

    July 27, 2012 at 10:05 am | Reply
  6. Willie12345

    What the U.S. needs to do is to mind it's own business abroad and try to fix it's own economy here at home!

    July 26, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Reply
    • Slavadil

      The terrorists aren't minding their own business. So how can we?

      July 27, 2012 at 1:31 am | Reply
  7. George Patton

    Here goes another right-wing nutjob(Michael Sheehan) trying to get us into another one of their useless and unnecessary wars. This mumbo-jumbo just goes on and on and on.... and never seems to end! Please, enough already!!!

    July 26, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Reply
    • bigs

      Hey wille...

      If creating double accounts, change your email.

      The verification visual will give you away otherwise...

      July 26, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Reply
  8. Zaki Murumkar

    Zaki Murumkar

    July 26, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Reply

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