US military planners have begun to help organize a multinational proxy force to intervene next year in Mali, the famine-stricken, coup-wracked African country that has become a magnet for Islamist extremists, US officials said Wednesday.
The international force would be led on the ground by several thousand Malian and West African troops but would receive extensive support from the Pentagon and the State Department, which would help train, equip and transport the troops, Obama administration officials said.
U.S. officials said the Pentagon’s planning efforts are contingent on the U.N. Security Council’s endorsement of the African-led force. U.N. officials and diplomats from other countries have said that U.N. approval is likely and that the military operation could begin next year.
The disclosure that U.S. military planners have started to prepare for the intervention was made by officials from the State Department and Pentagon at a Senate hearing Wednesday. It was the clearest sign yet that the administration has decided to take a more aggressive stance against al-Qaida’s growing affiliate in North Africa and to try to restore order in Mali, a Saharan country on the verge of collapse.