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U.S. Boosts Role In Mali As Chad Claims Killing Militant Leaders

Danny Lee |
March 3, 2013 | 7:23 p.m. PST

Executive Producer
Unarmed U.S. drones are assisting the efforts in Mali. (Wikimedia Commons)
Unarmed U.S. drones are assisting the efforts in Mali. (Wikimedia Commons)
A senior U.S. official told CNN on Sunday the Obama administration is still searching through U.S. intelligence reports for more evidence that can confirm veteran jihadist Moktar Belmoktar was killed in a raid by Chad’s military in Mali.
The official said the United States is not dismissing Chad’s claim to killing Belmoktar, who allegedly masterminded the deadly attack on an Algerian gas facility that killed 37 hostages. "We want to have a level of certainty about it before we say it's true, and we are not there yet," the official said.
Chadian armed forces spokesman Gen. Zacharia Goubongue issued a statement on state-run television to announce that Belmoktar died during clashes in northwestern Mali.
Word of Belmoktar’s death came as the U.S. has widened its role in the French-led military campaign against extremists in Mali. Rather than sending American ground troops and armed drones to wipe out militants in the north African nation, the U.S. will try to provide logistical and intelligence that would allow local and regional allies to carry out the operation.
U.S. Reaper drones have supplied targeting information that has led to about 60 French airstrikes during the past week in a mountain range where Western intelligence agencies believe militants are hiding. The Chadian unit fighting in Mali was trained by U.S. special operations forces, Chadian and U.S. officials said.
More from the Wall Street Journal:
Administration officials initially cited concerns that furnishing actionable intelligence to the French would spur the affiliate, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, to start targeting American interests in the region. They were also concerned the move would make the U.S. culpable for lethal operations that it wouldn't control.
Advocates of helping the French locate targets for strikes argued that providing the information was in the U.S. interest because it would bolster a key ally, reduce the risk that the French offensive would drag on and help eliminate militants of increasing concern to the U.S., including Mr. Belmokhtar.
A senior U.S. official said the Americans ultimately decided they weren't cobelligerents because the U.S. was supporting the French rather than joining the campaign.
A day before announcing Belmokhtar’s death, Chad said its forces had killed Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, the commander of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s Mali wing. French, U.S. and Malian officials have yet to confirm Zeid’s death, citing a lack of definitely information.
Find more Neon Tommy stories on Mali here. 
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