The Obama administration is close to offering limited support for France's military campaign in Mali, U.S. and European officials told The Wall Street Journal.
The Pentagon is preparing reconnaissance drones and other air-intelligence equipment for possible deployment within days, the officials told the newspaper in a story published Monday, as French jet fighters struck Islamist training camps and other militant positions in Mali's north.
Washington earlier warned a Western assault on Mali could rally jihadists and prompt terrorist attacks as far away as Europe, The New York Times reported.
But militant gains in Mali took on added urgency for Washington after the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. mission and intelligence facilities in Benghazi, Libya, the Journal said.
U.S. intelligence agencies have said militants linked to Mali's al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb took part in those attacks.
The Pentagon has no plans to send ground troops to Mali, a landlocked West African country south of Algeria, and any U.S. aircraft would not conduct airstrikes, unless militants there are found to be plotting attacks against the United States, the officials said.
"We noted that the government of Mali has asked for support, and we share the French goal of denying terrorists a safe haven in the region," White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told the Journal.
"We will stay in close touch with the French and other international partners as the situation develops," he said.
Paris also asked for military support from Washington, the Journal said. U.S. officials said Saturday they would consider sending drones to Mali.
White House officials are concerned about being drawn into a new conflict at the same time they focus on ending U.S. involvement in the 11-year-old war in Afghanistan.
The French-led military effort, which began Friday, seeks to take back Mali's north from the al-Qaida-linked extremists.
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