Mali crisis: 330 UK military personnel sent to West Africa

 
Malian troops boarding a French military transport plane French and Malian forces having been driving back Islamist rebels in the north of the country

The UK is to deploy about 330 military personnel to Mali and West Africa to support French forces, No 10 has said.

This includes as many as 40 military advisers who will train soldiers in Mali, and 200 British soldiers to be sent to neighbouring African countries, also to help train the Malian army.

French-led forces are continuing their offensive against Islamist militants who seized northern Mali last year.

International donors have pledged $455.53m (£289m) to tackle militants.

The 330 military personnel comprise 200 soldiers going to West African nations, 40 military advisers to Mali, and 90 support crew for a C-17 transport aircraft and a Sentinel R1 surveillance plane. None will have a combat role.

A conference taking place in Brussels is expected to decide which countries will contribute troops for an EU military training mission for Mali and discuss details of the mission.

Meanwhile, French-led troops are consolidating their position in the historic Malian city of Timbuktu after seizing it from Islamist extremists. They are then expected to focus on the last rebel stronghold, Kidal. They seized Gao, northern Mali's biggest city, on Saturday.

In a separate development, Downing Street said UK Prime Minister David Cameron was to visit neighbouring Algeria on Wednesday.

The trip comes in the wake of a hostage crisis that left four Britons and a UK resident dead and two Britons believed dead. During the siege, one statement purporting to be from the hostage-takers called for an end to the French military intervention against Islamist militants in Mali.

'What we can'

Detailing in the House of Commons the "extended support" the UK will offer France, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said it would:

  • Continue to allow the use of one of two C-17 transport planes, which are already flying French equipment to and from Mali, for three months. The RAF has also provided a Sentinel surveillance aircraft
  • Allow the US - which has been involved in airlifting French soldiers and equipment to Mali - to operate air refuelling flights out of Britain
  • Offer a roll-on, roll-off Merchant Navy ferry to help transport equipment to the French force in Mali. It would dock at a port in a West African state to enable the kit to be moved across land to Mali
  • Provide £5m to assist in the training of West African forces through two UN funds - £3m directed to Afisma (African-led International Support Mission to Mali) and £2m to support political processes in Mali

The UK also offered to set up a combined joint logistics HQ in Mali. However, so far the French have declined this offer.

UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond: "We do not envisage UK personnel fulfilling a force protection role"

UK shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said there were concerns about "mission creep".

"The UK commitment to Mali has grown from lending the French two transport aircraft to the deployment of perhaps hundreds of troops to the region," he said.

"UK trainers may be non-combat but that does not mean they are without risk."

But Mr Hammond stressed: "It is not our intention to deploy combat troops. We are very clear about the risks of mission creep.

Analysis

So does this move by the UK signal a new era of defence co-operation - the fruit of the defence treaty signed by Mr Cameron and the then French President Nicholas Sarkozy at Lancaster House just a few years ago? Well, yes and no.

British and French forces have already carried out a number of joint military exercises. They've also worked together in battle - most recently joining forces in the overthrow of Libya's Colonel Gaddafi.

But Libya was fought under the Nato umbrella. And Mali is clearly being led by the French. It's not a truly joint operation, or a sign that in the future Britain will always intervene with the French, or vice versa.

It's more an old fashioned "coalition of the willing", based on the shared threat posed by Islamic radicals. Ultimately British and French commanders are not sitting down together in a joint operations room calling the shots.

And when British troops do arrive on the ground in Mali - in relatively small numbers - they'll be working as part of an EU mission.

"We have defined very carefully the support that we are willing to provide to the French and the Malian authorities."

Number 10 is also considering who will provide "force protection" for the military advisers. At present, it is envisaged the force protection will not be provided by British soldiers. It is possible existing French forces in Mali could be used.

Former defence minister Sir Nick Harvey warned the number of personnel involved could rise if the UK had to provide its own force protection.

"If they (the military advisers) are spread out in different locations providing technical advice to different aspects of the Malian forces then those numbers will begin to climb quite rapidly," he said.

Military analyst Col Mike Dewar said the initial UK support was short-term but its latest offer of help constituted a "much more long-term plan".

It could take "years" for the British troops to make a difference to the "ill-trained" Malian army, he said.

The former head of the Army, General Sir Mike Jackson, backed the government's position but warned that nations involved may face a "protracted guerrilla warfare".

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  • Comment number 1021.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 1020.

    @1006

    "civies"?

    Someone has been playing too much COD I see.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 1019.

    Mali crisis: 330 UK military personnel sent to West Africa.

    Davids hoping you are all watching "Eastenders" "Coronation Street" and "Emerdale"
    Sadly, you are....

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 1018.

    "625.
    Zeppole
    Why is everyone so agitated about this? The Armed Forces are not paid to sit in their barracks and do push ups"

    Absolutely right! They are in fact paid to defend this country (clue - they are overseen by the Ministry of Defence), so when exactly did Mali declare war on the UK?

    The money the UK wastes on other people's wars would keep us all in pensions forever and build schools too

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1017.

    Africa, in general, will be the next "hotbed" of militant Islamic groups..................
    You heard it here first, trust me, a friend in the MoD told me about 18 months ago......."when we finish with Afghanistan, Africa is next"

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 1016.

    #842 "You can bet your bottom dollar, the SAS are amongst the troops being sent to Mali."

    Let's hope they don't get captured as quickly as they did in Libya.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1015.

    Politicians want fame and glory and to be written in to history.
    War only suits the bankers and big fish.(always connections to the above)
    Soldiers have no idea what they are dying for.
    The citizens are fed lies. If good people continue to sit around do nothing this is only going to continue, the evil will spread along with more lies and more needless deaths.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1014.

    I remember sitting in Afghanistan when some politician said we would go into Helmand Province without firing a shot. Lessons learnt give these boys/girls what they need from day 1 to be effective and come home quicker.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 1013.

    the simple fact is that this is a total waste of our money. the reason why the french have moved so far forward in north africa in such a small time is becuse there is no one to fight. the french have only come in to contact with extremly little resistance from the so called terrorists and now all of a sudden they have all run away in to the mountains just like so called osama did. what rubbish,

  • Comment number 1012.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1011.

    One hopes that the intervention is based on more effective planning than in other war theatres. The armed forces of Mali appear incapable of fighting anyone with a weapon and French troops are thin on the ground. The militants are well funded. Funding needs to be traced and throttled if this intervention is to work.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 1010.

    We are a skint nation who are cutting back on social funding, peoples pay and pentions etc, where is the money coming from to fund this?
    Let me guess the tax payers pocket yet again!!

    Why are we getting invovled in something that doesn't need us, we need to sort out our own problems first..

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 1009.

    625.
    Zeppole
    3 Hours ago

    Why is everyone so agitated about this? The Armed Forces are not paid to sit in their barracks and do push ups

    ----------------

    So your solution is to involve our troops in every war going just to keep their hand in? The lunatics truly have taken over the asylum.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1008.

    What happened to the european superstate, what happened to germany n france standing side by side, what happened to the UK needs europe and they don't need us.

    Here we are again being called upon and needed by europe and to do a french mans job.

    I've heard there is jobs going at a factory putting reverse lights on french tanks.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1007.

    I too get fed up with all of the political sniping. But there seems to be the most bizarre notion that Labour haven't started wars. They have! Look at the actions of the Blair government.

    I agree that instead of a referendum on Europe we should have a referendum on sending our troops to war. I suspect the result would be that we never send our troops into someone else's war ever again!! Hooray :)

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 1006.

    at the danger of repeating myself, you are all civvies, all armchair generals, most of the time you don't give a monkey's about our servicemen and women, and most of you have again demonstrated an amazing lack of knowledge of whats going on in the world. Remember our service people are all volunteers and this is what they join up for. So back to Corry and tea for you all.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1005.

    #982...1. how did france help us in 1982 in the F.I. exactly?I was out there in the royal signals corp we never saw or heard any french anywhere on our side. 2. how did we let france down in 1940? they basically surrendered.. and collaborated with hitler in large parts of france. and in 1870 I believe we had the sense not to poke our noses in where it doesnt interest us.the french are nothing.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1004.

    Re 977
    How can you calll any Politician brave,when it is never his/her life on the line?
    Just exactly how much courage,does it take.issue an order,knowing full well,that soneone could get killed,but it will not be you?
    How much courage should it take,to stop people getting killed?
    Or,do we keep on killing.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 1003.

    Typical BBC forum-wallah:

    "Hey, lass, what's this about Mali? Doesn't he play for Chelsea? And what's that on the news? Big men in boots in a desert. Our flag too! What a hypocrite Cameron is, fighting others' wars. Like Iraq, innit? or was it Iran? Where is Mali, anyway? (I went to a comp.) Anyway, forget Mali. Eastender's about to come on. Put the kettle on, lass...."

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 1002.

    Worried about what you said about UK leaving Europe, Dave ?
    TOO RIGHT !!!
    We need more solidarity and an end to the divisiveness of the Tories !

 

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