Malian Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga visited Washington this week to ask U.S. officials to bolster support for his country’s fight against terrorism, warning that the weakened Islamic State in Iraq and Syria could jump-start the flow of extremists across the Sahel, Africa’s arid northwest, worsen the region’s security and jeopardize American interests there.
“The United States should have the same engagement in the Sahel as it does in the Middle East,” he said in an interview. “Malian security is the essential key to international security.
Extremist groups, including some affiliated with the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, have wreaked havoc across parts of West Africa and the Sahel. In 2012, al-Qaeda-linked extremists infiltrated Mali, taking control of some of the country’s territory. A French intervention eventually beat them back, but parts of Mali remain a hotbed for extremists.
In December, the White House unveiled a broad Africa strategy that included prioritizing efforts to counter “radical Islamic terrorism.” But the Pentagon has also announced plans to slash by 10 percent its presence in Africa, where about 7,200 U.S. troops and personnel are stationed.
Maïga said Mali is “not demanding a massive presence of American soldiers” but wants Washington to supply training and equipment to help its military counter violence that has claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians this year. After Maïga met with White House national security adviser John Bolton on Wednesday, Bolton tweeted that he had “reiterated our commitment to partnering with Mali to defeat threats from terrorist groups in the Sahel.”
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