The U.S. Air Force continues to back French air operations in Mali through refueling efforts, logistical movements, troop transport and information sharing, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said Jan. 29.
“Since French operations began Jan. 11, the U.S. has been sharing intelligence with the French,” Little told reporters. The United States has provided airlift support to the French army since Jan. 21, he added, and began refueling support for French air operations Jan. 27.
As of Jan. 27, the U.S. Air Force had flown 17 C-17 sorties, moving more than 391 tons of equipment and supplies and nearly 500 French personnel into Bamako, Little said.
One refueling mission has been conducted so far, Little said, when a KC-135 Stratotanker provided about 33,000 pounds of fuel to French fighter aircraft. More refueling missions are expected to take place today, he added, noting that the United States is in constant consultation with France on their operations in Mali.
Following a phone call between Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and his French counterpart, the United States also has agreed to support the international effort by providing airlift to countries in the region, including Chad and Togo, Little said.
Further French requests for assistance will be reviewed, Little said, noting that the U.S. strongly supports French operations in Mali against al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
“AQIM and other terrorist groups have threatened to establish a safe haven in Mali, and the French have done absolutely the right thing,” Little said. “We will continue to assess their needs and what our support might be in the future.”
Panetta has stressed the need to go after al-Qaida wherever they are, Little said, including its various branches in south Asia and Africa.
“AQIM poses a threat in the region, and I can’t rule out the possibility that AQIM poses a threat to U.S. interests,” he said. “This is a group that has shown its ability to demonstrate brutality and to conduct attacks. And it’s very important that we work with our partners in the region and our allies to thwart them.”