Greater US military role in Mali likely after polls: senator

The United States is likely to play a more active military role in Mali, where French-led forces are battling Islamist rebels, after the country holds elections, the chair of a key Senate sub-committee said Monday.

Washington has been providing intelligence, transport and mid-air refuelling to France, which launched its intervention last month, but cannot work directly with the Malian army until a democratically elected government replaces current leaders who came to power after a coup, said Chris Coons, chair of the Senate foreign relations committee's Africa sub-committee.

"There is the hope that there will be additional support from the United States in these and other areas, but ... American law prohibits direct assistance to the Malian military following the coup," Coons told journalists in the Malian capital.

"After there is a full restoration of democracy, I would think it is likely that we will renew our direct support for the Malian military," added the senator, who led a bipartisan congressional delegation to Mali to meet with interim president Dioncounda Traore and French and African defence officials.

France, which launched its intervention on January 11 as Al-Qaeda-linked groups that had occupied the north for 10 months made incursions into government territory, is keen to share the military burden in Mali, and has announced plans to start bringing its 4,000 troops home in March.

The European Union formally approved a military training mission Monday that will be tasked with getting Mali's under-funded army ready to secure reclaimed territory.

But France is the only Western country with troops on the ground, and would like to hand over to some 6,000 west African troops who are slowly being deployed to help.

Mali imploded after a March 2012 coup by soldiers who blamed the government for the army's humiliation at the hands of separatist rebels in the north.

With the capital in disarray, Al-Qaeda-linked fighters hijacked the independence rebellion and took control of a territory larger than Texas.