NewsNation | February 26, 2013
>>> welcome back. a group of bipartisan lawmakers just returned from a fact finding mission inside mali 's deadly war zone . the four americans met with military officials in the country's capital and discussed how the u.s. can help mali regain control from islamic rebels. french troopses are involved in what officials call quote very violent fighting in the northern part of the country. joining me now, two politicians of the delegation, senator chris coons and karen bass of california. thank you both for joining us.
>> thank you, tamron.
>> absolutely. senator, on your trip, you were quoted saying the u.s. likely to eventually resume direct support of mali 's military but only after democracy through elections. you have americans wondering why to supply direct military support and why was it so important to go there?
>> it was responsibility for the delegation to go there to meet with the american ambassador and meet with the military commanders who are both leading the multilateral african force. we met with the major general of nigeria and with the minister of defense from mali and his leadership. and with the french military commander and to get a briefing from our own diplomatic and intelligence community about the situation on the ground and to have a chance to question the french, the malian and military commanders about how they saw the path forward. we had a chance to meet with some of the folks who fled from the north and seeking shelter in the south and to hear from them personally about what circumstances were like in timbuktu and some of the northern cities where they have suffered under jihadist rule over nine to ten months.
>> congresswoman, this is an example where we as americans must keep our eye on the ball, for example, in mali . we saw what happened in somalia and yemen, as well, where groups linked to al qaeda or jihadists infiltrate and potentially be a threat to this country.
>> absolutely. and i have to say that another meeting we had that was very critical was with the interim president. but you know, if you look at the situation in many of these countries, until you address the underlying social and economic conditions, especially with very young populations, when you have tens of thousands of young people who are unemployed and they feel as though they have no hope and no future, then they're perfectly susceptible to al qaeda or other problematic groups like that so i think it's important to contribute. we are continuing to contribute humanitarian aid and we need to support the malians preparing for elections in july and make sure that they have good gompb na governance and address the underlying problems that --
>> we know that people will hear the comments and say, wait a minute, we are in the middle of the sequester debate and talking about cuts to defense, cuts to the department of justice . domestic programs here. and we're looking at assisting this country. why is it important?
>> well, i think it's very important to stability and to our national security here. but you know, having said that, there's no reason for us to have the sequester. this is a self-imposed problem and i think the congress both sides of the aisle need to come together and the republicans in my house i think want to see the sequester move forward because they have a problem and their belief as to the size of government should be and they're not recognizing the tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of jobs that will be lost if the sequester moves forward.
>> senator, as i mentioned, we are in the middle of the stalemate. no meetings planned here and talking about assisting another country and certainly you can point to the threat that it could pose if things get out of hand in mali but you have folks looking at potential job loss here and may wonder where the priorities lie.
>> tamron, i think part of why it was important to go and visit mali and see conditions on the ground was to further understand how how real and significant a threat al qaeda and the islamic iqim poses to mali and the countries in the region. three americans were killed in algeria just a few weeks ago in a terrorist-led kidnapping and attack on a gas facility in the desert and the same folk who is led the attack on the benghazi component linked remotely to the folks taking action in northern mali and just this week, the french military seized i think 35,000 tons of libyan arms that had been relocated to the deserts in the north of mali . this is an area the size of texas and al qaeda affiliates seeking to use it as a new base from which to launch attacks on french, american interests and regional african allies. yes, facing the sequester, facing record deficits we have financial challenges of our own in this country but in this particular situation where our allies are doing the fighting, and where the hard work of reconciliation and a restoration of democracy is possible, it's wise to contribute and support the efforts by the french, by the malians and rexal african forces taking the fight to al qaeda .
>> thank you both for your time and we greatly appreciate you joining us from this big trip you have made.