Pentagon weighs Mali options, including intelligence-sharing

WASHINGTON Fri Jan 11, 2013 7:55pm EST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon is weighing options in Mali, including intelligence-sharing with France and logistics support, following French air strikes on Friday against Islamist rebels, a U.S. official told Reuters.

"Discussions are ongoing," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Western governments, particularly Mali's former colonial power, France, voiced alarm after the al Qaeda-linked rebel alliance captured the central Malian town of Konna on Thursday, a gateway to the capital, Bamako, 375 miles farther south.

France has confirmed air strikes against the rebels, but declined to offer further details of the intervention - such as whether French troops were on the ground - while it was in progress, so as to limit the rebels' knowledge of the operation.

No further details were immediately available on options being considered by the United States, which is balancing its deep concerns about al Qaeda in the region with deep wariness of being dragged into another conflict after 11 years of non-stop war.

Speaking earlier on Friday at the State Department, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Mali had not yet asked for direct support and that she was unaware of such a request from France.

"We are obviously consulting very closely with the government of France going forward," Nuland said.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton called for "accelerated international engagement" and said the bloc would speed up plans to deploy 200 troops to train Malian forces, initially expected in late February.

Military analysts voiced doubt whether Friday's action heralded the start of a final operation to retake northern Mali - a harsh, sparsely populated terrain the size of France - as the equipment and ground troops are not ready.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Peter Cooney)

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