France, US boost Maghreb anti-terror cooperation: WikiLeaks

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France and the United States have been cooperating more closely for a year in the fight against an Al-Qaeda unit in north Africa, a push initiated by Paris, US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks and cited by the Le Monde newspaper showed late Monday.

France officially acknowledged the cooperation in late summer but up to now no details have been known about the meetings between the French and the Americans.

At the end of last year, the French said they were "losing the battle between development of these countries and growing security threats," said a US memo written after a meeting between advisors to the French presidency and US officials, according to Le Monde's translations.

"Terrorism is virtually at our door," added the French, while less than a year later five French nationals and two Africans working for French companies in uranium mining in northern Niger were kidnappped.

The seven hostages are still being held in Mali by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI).

"Some French installations are threatened by terrorist attacks, especially in the north," added at the time an advisor to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the leaked cables said.

In January at a new meeting, an account written by the US embassy said that "the French insist on better coordination in the area of military assistance, sharing intelligence and development projects."

For the Americans, "it is vital that counter-terrorism has a 'local face'", another memo said. Giving outsiders a high-profile in the fight risks "helping AQMI in its efforts to recruit and collect funds," it said, expressing a viewpoint shared by the French.

The role of Mali in the anti-terrorism fight in the Sahel region is also commented on in other US cables.

"We can count on him, he has the troops to do the work," the US ambassador to Bamako, Gillian Milovanovic, wrote in 2009 about Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure.

Several months later an account about training of Malian forces by US troops left some doubts about Mali's capabilities.

Each Malian soldier fired 1,000 cartridges during five weeks of exercises which is "probably more than a Malian soldier would use in his entire career," the cable said.

© 2010 AFP

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