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U.S. debates extra aid for Mali action

At issue: Cost of long engagement

Melody Platt, left, and her partner Beratta Gomillion wait among the first couples in line to be issued a marriage license to a same-sex couple, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, in Seattle. King County Executive Dow Constantine was to began issuing the licenses just after midnight, Thursday, Dec. 6, immediately upon certification of the November election that passed Referendum 74 allowing same-sex couples to wed. The couple are planning on getting married on their 32nd anniversary, Monday Dec. 12. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Melody Platt, left, and her partner Beratta Gomillion wait among the first couples in line to be issued a marriage license to a same-sex couple, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, in Seattle. King County Executive Dow Constantine was to began issuing the licenses just after midnight, Thursday, Dec. 6, immediately upon certification of the November election that passed Referendum 74 allowing same-sex couples to wed. The couple are planning on getting married on their 32nd anniversary, Monday Dec. 12. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

The Obama administration has resolved its legal questions about supporting French military operations in Mali, but an internal debate is ongoing over whether more assistance is in U.S. policy interests.

The United States quickly responded to French requests for troop transport airlift and additional intelligence. But a two-week-old French call for U.S. refueling planes for French aircraft striking targets in Mali remains pending, U.S. and French officials said.

“What we’ve been working through is not viewing Mali as a one-off but rather as part of a continuum of counterterrorism efforts and decisions that we’re making to address the situation in northern Africa” over the medium and long term, a U.S. official said.

“We need to think through what our engagement means – what the risk of getting further engaged could be to U.S. personnel abroad, and the duration of time that we’re being asked to get involved,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity about a pending policy question.

A French official voiced strong appreciation for U.S. support, calling “relations with Washington on the Malian crisis permanent and confident.”

France has been reluctant to publicly criticize U.S. delay, and officials acknowledge that the need to supplement their own fleet of five refueling aircraft is not urgent. But with their own aircraft in Mali flying more than a thousand miles from a base in Chad, the French have expressed a need for refueling backup in case its troops need quick-reaction response as they move into insurgent-dominated northern Mali.

U.S. officials believe that the French also want to keep their strike planes circling high above Mali as they wait for opportunistic targets.

Officials from both countries said they expected the refueling question to be resolved in the near future.

The administration has long expressed concern about al-Qaida-related insurgents in North Africa, and had begun to position assets and develop a long-term strategy for
the region. But the fast-developing Mali crisis came as a surprise.

France’s rapid intervention and requests for assistance were initially viewed in a legal context. The French
were responding to a request from Mali, where U.S. law prohibits direct military aid because the government came to power last year in a coup. At the same time, U.S. officials were unsure whether they could legally aid France’s military operations without a United Nations or other international mandate.

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