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Somalia, Mali peace efforts alike

– The Obama administration is contemplating broad military, political and humanitarian intervention to stop a slide toward chaos and Islamic extremism in Mali, the top State Department diplomat for Africa said Thursday.

The international effort to expunge al-Qaida-linked militants and restore political order in Somalia could present a model for Mali, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Johnnie Carson said.

Since 2007, the United States has spent more than $550 million to help train and supply an African proxy force of about 18,000 soldiers in Somalia, which has brought a measure of stability to the war-torn country for the first time in two decades.

Although the United States has not committed to replicating that approach in Mali, Carson and others are holding up the routing of the al-Shabab militia and conducting of elections in Somalia as a template for actions elsewhere.

“It’s a model that should be reviewed and looked at as an element for what might be effective in that part of the world,” Carson said in an interview, “but it’s not there yet.”

The Somalia comparison offers the clearest view yet of U.S. thinking about the growing terrorism threat from Mali, a landlocked West African country the size of Texas that has imploded politically since a military coup in March.

As in Somalia, the threat to the United States and other countries from Mali is wrapped in a larger problem of lawlessness, poverty, tribal friction and weak governance.

Somalia adopted a provisional constitution in August, and a new federal government was formed after years of chaos that had fueled terrorism, piracy and famine.

Security has slowly improved under the proxy force, which is led by the African Union but bankrolled and trained by the United States, European Union and United Nations.

Carson said the internationally backed plan for Somalia’s political reconstruction was working because the country’s neighbors – along with the United States, European Union and United Nations – had subscribed to a common set of goals.

He cautioned that a regional and international consensus would be required for the approach to work in Mali.

“There needs to be that kind of a clear understanding there as well,” he said.

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