ALGIERS, Algeria, Oct. 29 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Algeria Monday to discuss fighting terrorism in the Sahel region of Africa, officials said.
Officials traveling with Clinton said there is a strong recognition throughout the Sahel -- a belt that stretches from the Red Sea to the Atlantic Ocean -- that Algeria must have a central part of both combating al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb region and ending the divisions in Mali, where al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists have control in the northern part of the country, Voice of America reported.
"A whole range of countries in the region really look to Algeria for leadership on this," one U.S. official said. "They know Algeria has unique capability that no one else in the region really has, including the strength of their military and intelligence gathering."
The Economic Community of West African States is working with Mali's transitional leaders to help develop a regional force that to help Mali's military retake northern areas controlled by Islamic militia and ethnic-Tuareg rebels.
A meeting between Clinton and Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was expected to include discussion of the U.S. position of supporting West African efforts against Islamic extremists in northern Mali.
Clinton says al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb is working with other terror organizations to undercut democratic transitions in North Africa and played a role in the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three diplomatic staffers were killed.
A senior State Department official told Voice of America Clinton wanted to hear from Bouteflika about how Algeria may join the United States, France and other nations in supporting a West African force for Mali.