BAMAKO, Mali, Feb. 1 (UPI) -- Western military leaders are considering at what point to hand operations in Mali to a force led by African allies, a senior defense official said.
U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter met in Paris with senior defense officials. U.S. and British forces are providing logistical support to a French military intervention meant to help Mali stop the advance of foreign and al-Qaida militants.
Last year, the U.N. Security Council approved of the use of military force to help ensure Mali's territorial integrity. The Economic Community of West African States had planned a 3,000-member strong neutral force for Mali.
James Townsend, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO policy, told the American Forces Press Service that Western powers want African solutions to the situation in Mali.
"One of the most important points going forward -- and this is also a conversation with the French -- is the point at which there is some kind of handoff back to the African-led force," the official said.
Townsend said multilateral operations in Mali were meant to ensure the country didn't become a safe haven for an evolving North African al-Qaida franchise.
William Burns, deputy U.S. secretary of state, warned in late 2012 that groups like al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb presented "complex" challenges to North African security.