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US hails 'successful' French intervention in Mali

Soldiers patrol aboard a truck in Gao northern Mali, on February 14, 2013
Soldiers patrol aboard a truck in Gao northern Mali, on February 14, 2013. US Secretary of State John Kerry Thursday praised the "successful" intervention by France to root out Islamic rebels in northern Mali, and urged Malian leaders to hold elections.

US Secretary of State John Kerry Thursday praised the "successful" intervention by France to root out Islamic rebels in northern Mali, and urged Malian leaders to organize elections.

Speaking ahead of talks with UN chief Ban Ki-moon, Kerry said Mali would be among issues discussed during their first meeting at the State Department.

"We urge the government to continue the political transition process towards elections and to step up negotiations with the non-extremist groups in the north," Kerry said.

Mali's army is struggling to restore security after a French-led military intervention helped it push out Al-Qaeda-linked rebels who had seized the country's north last year and brought in strict Sharia Islamic law.

The west African nation imploded after a March coup by soldiers who blamed the government for the army's humiliation at the hands of north African Tuareg rebels, who had launched an uprising in the north two months earlier.

With the capital in disarray, Al-Qaeda-linked fighters hijacked the Tuareg rebellion and took control of the north.

France launched its intervention on January 11, after Mali's interim government called for help fending off the Islamist insurgents as they began to make incursions into government territory.

The United States has provided airlift support for French troops, and worked to train and organize an African-led force which is due to move in to take over from the French.

But the US administration came under fire from lawmakers Thursday for what the chairman of the House foreign affairs committee, Representative Ed Royce, called its initial "tepid" response "in answering our ally's call."

"It seems the bureaucracy slowed our pace of support," Royce told a hearing called to investigate the US response to the crisis in Mali.

"This is a NATO ally fighting Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists -- it shouldn't be that hard." And he cautioned against "an abrupt turnover" to a UN force which would be "a disaster."

"I think this might bring us right back to square one, because frankly I don't think at this point there's a peace to keep in Mali," Royce said.

But the top US diplomat to Africa, Johnnie Carson, said the transition to a UN-supervised force would not be done "hastily" and that African forces would be "better managed and organized under a UN peace-keeping regime."

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