WASHINGTON Jan 17 The United States has agreed
to a French request for airlift capacity to help France move its
troops and equipment to Mali, a limited expansion of American
support in the battle against Islamist rebels there, U.S.
officials said on Thursday.
The U.S. decision, while widely expected, comes after an
Obama administration legal review to decide what assistance
Washington could provide to France, which last week began a
military operation against the militants in Mali.
One U.S. official said the Air Force could start cargo
flights, likely using C-17 aircraft but possibly also larger
C-5s, in as little as a day. But details have yet to be worked
out and no timetable has been decided.
"We've agreed to transport the troops and material," said
Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the White House National Security
Council. He said the French would reimburse the U.S. government
for the costs of the military flights.
The airlift support comes on top of increased U.S.
intelligence-sharing with France, but keeps the United States
distant from fighting on the ground.
Other possible steps, like providing aerial refueling for
French jets or sending in surveillance drones, have yet to be
taken and, depending on decisions in Washington, may not be.
The top U.S. military officer, General Martin Dempsey, said
France had not requested U.S. assistance in any lethal
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said there are no plans
to send in U.S. troops and, in an interview with ABC News, said
the real effort would ultimately fall to regional powers.
"Ultimately the African nations, particularly the West
African nations, ECOWAS, have to ultimately go in and resume
responsibility for providing security in Mali," Panetta said.