White House: U.S. readying help for France in Mali

The U.S. is preparing to enter into the conflict in Mali, a White House official said on Thursday, by preparing to help move French troops and their equipment nearly one week after the fighting began.

“We have some unique airlift capability and we are working with the French to provide them support in moving troops and equipment,” spokesman Jay Carney said at the White House press briefing. “As we've said previously, we are also providing intelligence support.”

Until Thursday, U.S. officials had only said there were considering French requests ƒor more direct logistics assistance in conducting air and ground operations against Islamist militias that U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, have identified as being affiliated with al Qeada.

“As you know, the government of France has asked for some additional intelligence and logistics support from the United States. And as I said the other day, we're considering those requests,” Carney said.

There are now 1,400 French troops in Mali, France’s defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, announced on Thursday.

Traveling in Europe, Panetta on Wednesday said, “This is an al Qaeda operation, and it is for that reason that we have always been concerned about their presence in Mali.” Panetta was speaking specifically of militants considered part of al Qaeda on the Islamic Maghreb.

Panetta had said that as Europe decided what to do, the goal remained to get African forces to ultimately “play a key role” in Mali.

“I believe that there is a consensus that France took the right step here to try to deter AQIM from taking even further action there and that there will be an effort to try to bring the European community together,” he said.”