A top State Department official indicated Thursday that the U.S. should shape its presence in Mali based on previous efforts in Somalia, a former war-torn haven for al Qaeda he says is now one of the continent's greatest success stories.
U.S. officials are still considering support requests from the French for support following their military incursion into Mali recent days, said Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary of State for African Affairs. The Economic Community of West African States also continues to determine how neighboring countries will contribute to the fighting between French forces and a coalition of Islamic extremists.
The situation in Mali is reminiscent of Somalia in recent decades, says Carson. What was a haven for al Qaeda and home to the "Black Hawk Down" incident in 1993 is now a successfully burgeoning democracy.
"The kind of support we would give to the ECOWAS states and others in the African theater [in Mali] is very, very similar to what we have done in support of the [African Union Mission in Somalia] effort in Somalia," he says of support given to African countries who contributed to security operations.
The U.S. State Department, working with groups such as AMISOM, USAID and peacekeepers from regional countries, successfully propped up a transitional government in Somalia under then-president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, Carson said, and defeated al Shabaab, the al Qaeda-linked terrorist group that previously controlled significant portions of the East African nation.
Islamic extremists in Somalia made headlines following the "Black Hawk Down" incident in 1993, and for harboring terrorists who destroyed the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya in 1998.
Carson's comments come days after the disastrous French rescue attempt of an intelligence officer held captive by al Shabaab last week. At least one French commando died in the raid, in which the U.S. military offered air support.
Carson credits much of the success in turning Somalia around to the inclusion of regional governments.
"Just four years ago, al Shabaab controlled most of Mogadishu and most of south and central Somalia," he said. "Today, AMISOM and Somali national security forces have rolled back al Shabaab from Mogadishu and every other city in south and central Somalia."
"For the first time in two decades, Somalia has a representative government with a new president, a new prime minister, a new parliament and a new constitution," he added. "Its success is remarkable."