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TRANSCRIPT: General Ham discusses Mali with Radio France Internationale
In an interview with Radio France Internationale, November 14, 2012, General Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), described the situation in Mali and his assessment of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). <br /> <br />The
In an interview with Radio France Internationale, November 14, 2012, General Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), described the situation in Mali and his assessment of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

The complete transcript is provided below.

Q: Welcome to Radio France Internationale, General Carter Ham, the Commander of the US Africa Command.

GENERAL CARTER HAM: Thank you very much. I am glad to be here in Paris.

Q: What support will you be providing for the military intervention in northern Mali?

GEN. HAM: Well first, I think military intervention is not certain. I think preparation for a possible military intervention is necessary. Those are the steps that ECOWAS and Mali are taking. We have not received any specific requests from any African countries for support for a possible military activity in Mali. We expect that we will at some point, perhaps during the discussion between ECOWAS and the United Nations. But it is reasonable to expect that such requests would include matters such as logistics, equipment for the military forces, the provision and sharing of intelligence, I think, and certainly financial support.

Q: What base would you have your team in? Would you be based in [Tema] in Mauritania, or Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso?

GEN. HAM: Well, [it is] premature to address any of those concerns. What we do know is that, whatever support we are asked, we will seriously consider, and if there is a decision for the U.S. to provide support, we would seek to do so in a very light-footprint manner. We recognize that, that a large U.S. military presence in the region would be counterproductive.

Q: How serious is the threat of AQIM? You've previously discussed the numbers of fighters as around 800 to 1200. What about their weaponry? What about their locations?

GEN. HAM: It's my assessment that Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is Al-Qaeda's best-funded, best-financed affiliated organization. They get most of their money through kidnappings for ransom, but also for activity in illegal drug trade. They have a lot of money. In the aftermath of operations in Libya, many fighters who were fighting for Gadhafi came back into the region and brought with them weapons, to include heavy weapons, heavy machine guns and the like. So theyyre well-financed, theyyre well-armed and we have seen indications that theyyre very actively recruiting not only from the immediate region but in west and Central Africa as well.

Q: Representatives from ECOWAS have told RFI that they are very keen to have air support. If the U.S. is providing that, what kind of drones will you be using? Unarmed drones or maybe armed drones such as the Predator, equipped with the Hell Fire Missiles?

GEN. HAM: Again, very premature to have any discussion like that. Weeve not been asked for any such support, and if we are asked, weell have a dialogue, a consultation if you will, with the African forces, African countries and governments to see what might be most appropriate. We are very cognizant, though, that this must be an African-led, planned and executed endeavor, and any international support, to include that from the U.S., must be very clearly seen, both in fact and in perception, to be supporting of the African effort. So, again, a very large visible U.S. military footprint may not be appropriate.

Q: Will the U.S., maybe, lead from behind, like with AMISOM in Somalia?

GEN. HAM: I don't particularly like that phrase, but the AMISOM model is not bad where the United States and many other international partners contribute to the training and equipping, financing of African forces to operate in Somalia. Thatts not a bad model, and in concept I think thatts something that would be attractive for a potential military intervention in Mali.

Q: Where would we draw the line for American Forces if they were involved in supporting an intervention in northern Mali?

GEN. HAM: I think it is best if we leave an element of ambiguity for AQIM so that they don't know exactly what we might or might not do. But I would say, as a matter of, of agreement, broad agreement amongst the nations of the region, military and civilian leaders with whom I've interacted and others, that the continued presence of AQIM is the unacceptable factor.

Q: During our discussions, weeve not mentioned hostages so far. Does that mean Western hostages in northern Mali don't matter to the U.S .military?

GEN. HAM: Well I think any hostages matter to not just to the U.S. military but to all others. We have a long-standing policy in the United States against hostage-taking and against ransom payments for those circumstances where there are hostages. So, certainly the presence of hostages will be, will have to be a factor as ECOWAS considers any potential military activity.

Q: Thank you for joining us on Radio France Internationale, General Carter Ham, the head of U.S. Africa Command.

GEN. HAM: Good. Thank you very much. It's great to be here in Paris.