In a turnaround for the Pentagon, the U.S. has agreed to help French troops deploy to the west African nation of Mali, where the French military is currently trying to push back on the ground against a growing faction of militants tied to the terrorist organization al Qaeda. Reuters reports that the U.S. will lend its strategic airlift capacity to move French soldier sand necessary supplies into Mali:
U.S. agrees to French request for airlift capacity to help France moves troops and equipment to Mali, official says #BREAKING— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) January 17, 2013
Earlier today, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters that the U.S. had yet to decide whether to assist France:
Q You said earlier in the week that the United States would consider providing logistical support to France and Mali. How does [the possibility of al Qaeda's involvement] affect that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I'm not sure that it does. [...]
Why the wait if so many had been urging the U.S. for tactical support? Yesterday Defense Secretary Leon Panetta explained the diligence of Defense Department lawyers who wanted to ensure they wouldn't be breaking any international treaties by helping the French, who were petitioned by Mali's government for help in defeating militants who had gained a foothold in northern parts of the country. (Mali is a former French colony, but gained independence from France in 1960.) Furthermore, no other country matches the strategic airlift capacity of the United States — if we weren't going to help the French move their military to Africa, no one else could do it better.
Earlier in the day, the White House strongly condemned a terrorist attack on a BP facility in Algeria, which an al Qaeda-linked group was said to have stormed in retaliation for the French intervention in Mali.