- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 2, 2013

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — United States Sens. John McCain and Sheldon Whitehouse arrived in Mali’s capital, Bamako, Tuesday for a two-day visit to assess the country’s battle against Islamic extremist rebels in the north.

The Arizona Republican and the Rhode Island Democrat met with Mali’s acting President Dioncounda Traore and interim Prime Minister Diango Cissoko Tuesday.

The senators “arrived in Bamako to take in the situation on the ground to better understand the present challenges so that they can foster the most appropriate contribution from America,” said a statement issued by the United States embassy in Bamako.

Mali’s northern half was overrun by rebels from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb last year. The senators are touring the capital as a French-led military intervention to expel the extremists enters its third month.

McCain said the U.S. will continue to provide humanitarian aid and military assistance, including equipment, training and technology, to the French campaign to kick the al-Qaeda-allied rebels out of Mali.

Since the French forces intervened in Mali in January, U.S. drones have provided intelligence to help their battle, including information to find the extremists holding seven French hostages. The U.S. will use all means at its disposal to track the kidnappers, said McCain.

Sen. Whitehouse said the U.S. wants to encourage successful elections in Mali, which would allow Washington to increase direct assistance to Mali.

The senators also discussed the problem of drug trafficking with Traore. Since 2005, Mali has been a transit point for drugs and this illicit business is corrupting the country’s democracy, said McCain.

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