By Jemal Oumar and Bakari Gueye
European Union foreign ministers agreed Monday (November 19th) to send 250 military advisors to Mali to support an African-led intervention, AFP reported.
Under the plan, the European troops would train and rebuild the Malian armed forces as African troops move against terrorists occupying the country’s north. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has already approved the deployment of 3,300 soldiers, pending UN approval.
The move follows a meeting of the foreign and defence ministers of France, Germany, Poland, Spain and Italy last week in Paris where they discussed their position on the Mali crisis.
“We encourage our partners to enhance efforts for a political solution to the Malian crisis, as well as to contribute to a possible training mission to support the Malian armed forces,” read a joint statement issued by the ministers after their November 15th meeting.
“The Europeans can help but this is going to take time and means,” BBC quoted French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius as telling reporters last Thursday.
Fabius also stated that European states were prepared to provide financial and humanitarian support to Malian authorities.
For his part, Gérôme Pigné, an expert on European Union relations and Sahel countries, told Magharebia that European logistical and intelligence support would not be enough to free northern Mali from terrorists. “However, the Europeans realise the sensitivity of situation, and therefore, can’t declare their military participation because this will be exploited by the jihadists to pass the propaganda of fighting against crusader invaders,” he added.
Mali was also at the top of the agenda during a recent meeting between French President Francois Hollande and African Union Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
“It is now the responsibility of the Africans – that is, the African Union and ECOWAS – to find solutions so that Mali’s territorial integrity is restored, so that there can be elections, so that political dialogue can be pursued for the necessary length of time so that the groups will distance themselves from the terrorists, and finally so that intervention can be envisaged if the Africans themselves decide to take that course of action,” Hollande said after the November 14th talks.
“We would like to persuade the Malian armed groups to come to the negotiating table and dissociate themselves from the criminal and terrorist groups. If that can happen, it would be a big step forwards,” Dlamini-Zuma said during a press briefing at the Elysée Palace with Hollande.
But according to Burkinabe Foreign Minister Djibrill Bassole, “dialogue will not replace military intervention, which will prevent the terrorist groups from causing any harm.”
“War in Mali has become inevitable,” according to military expert Mohamed Ould Lekweiry.
“The ECOWAS forces which will arrive to support the Malian army will find themselves up against very mobile fighters who have a significant arsenal including surface-to-air missiles and rockets. These jihadists also know the local area well. So it is primarily the special forces that we must rely on,” he stated.
Nigerien Foreign Minister Mohamed Bazoum has said that “AQIM and the foreigners must be combated. They have the greatest influence, because they’re the ones who are in control of the drug trafficking. They must be driven out of the mountains.”
“We want to do things in such a way that no traces of terrorism can remain in this region, and that’s not particularly difficult,” Bazoum added.