Britain has offered to send up to 200 troops to Africa, with up to 40 being sent to Mali in a training role, to support the French-led mission against Islamist militants, Downing Street has confirmed.
The British personnel in Mali would be part of an EU force to train local soldiers to later take over from French troops who have driven back the rebels from large swathes of the north of the country. It is thought they would also provide logistical expertise.
Meanwhile, the UK has offered up to 200 military personnel to help train a broader West African intervention force, Downing Street said. The non-combat roles are part of a UN-led mission.
Britain has also offered a roll-on roll-off ferry to help transport equipment to the French force in Mali, the Number 10 spokesman added.
Speaking from the historic city of Timbuktu, which was taken by the French forces on Monday, British soldiers would help “bolster” the Malian forces, which she described as “very depleted”.
Local troops had been unable to fight off militants entering Timbuktu last year and simply put down their weapons and fled – leaving the already armed radical jihadists with further weaponry.
“Malians themselves as an army have a reputation for being ill-disciplined, badly motivated and are accused in some towns of carrying out human rights abuses, so there’s clearly a lot of training to be done there.”
Looting and violence broke out in Timbuktu on Tuesday. Homes and businesses of suspected jihadist supporters were broken into as local residents vented their anger at the regime which had controlled the city until French troops moved in.
Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy told that Labour supported the Government’s decision to send troops to Mali for training purposes.
But he called for more information on the “rules of engagement” and about how long British forces would be in the North African country.
Mr Murphy added that the public were “wary” about military commitments after the UK’s involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.
He also urged other European countries to assist in the wider Africa training mission.
It was confirmed on Tuesday at an international donors conference for Mali, hosted by the African Union in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, that the EU would allocate 50m euros to support peace operations in Africa.
Prime Minister David Cameron has assured French President Francois Hollande that Britain is “keen” to help Paris with its military mission.
The RAF has already provided two heavy-lift C-17 transport planes and a Sentinel surveillance aircraft to assist France’s operation, and national security adviser Sir Kim Darroch was in Paris on Monday to discuss what further help may be offered, while David Cameron has said the UK is ready to offer logistical, intelligence and surveillance help to France, although he has ruled out a combat role for British troops.
In recent days, French forces have pushed deep into the north of the country, entering the towns of Gao and Timbuktu.
President Hollande has said they are “winning this battle” and French soldiers appeared to meet little resistance as they seized Timbuktu from Islamists as part of their offensive against the radicals who have controlled the country’s vast desert north for 10 months.
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