France may pay for future US military assistance in Mali
The United States will continue to give military assistance to French forces in the Sahel but France will have to pick up the bill, American defence officials told the AFP news agency on Friday.
"Going forward, the costs of the mission will have to be reimbursed," said a senior US defence official speaking anonymously to AFP.
The United States have provided intelligence, surveillance drones, transport planes and refuelling tankers to French troops fighting armed Islamists in Mali since 2013.
In his 2014 budget US President Barack Obama approved an extra 10 million euros in military aid for the French mission in west Africa, calling it an "emergency".
"US forces are committed to support France's counter-terrorism efforts in Mali," an anonymous US military source said in an email to AFP. "We have been closely working with French forces (...) and this week we extended our support by providing cargo aircraft and refuelling capabilities."
But the new air war in Syria and Iraq could force Washington to redeploy its robotic drones and others spy planes from west Africa to the Middle East.
After its operation in Mali in January 2013, France launched Operation Barkhane to counter Islamist armed groups in an area covering five countries along the southern rim of Sahara.
About 3,000 French soldiers are deployed in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad and about 1,000 provide logistical support in Gabon and Senegal.
"A military base has now been set up in northern Niger," a French diplomat told AFP on Thursday.
The recent instability in neighbouring Libya has raised worries that Islamist fighters could take control of the desert in the south.
French and American troops are currently operating together in the area - from Niamey - and American drones could be redeployed further north, near Agadez.
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