Downing Street has said that the British government may dispatch a “sizable” number of troops to Mali to aid French troops stationed in the country’s north, as part of a UK mission to train local forces and engage in “force protection.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron told French President François Hollande on Sunday evening that the UK was keen to provide military assistance, including the training of local forces.
British representatives will be attending a meeting in Brussels on Tuesday to discuss the provision of troops as part of an EU mission to the African country.
Britain will aid in the formation of this EU mission, and will reportedly only be contributing “tens” of troops to this area. However, the UK will assist in training troops from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in neighboring countries for possible military maneuvers in Mali, according to British media. Many ECOWAS countries, such as Nigeria, have strong ties to Britain.
London reiterated that British troops would not be participating directly in combat, but would be providing armed “force protection.” However, Downing Street did state that the country has both the “capability and capacity” for a larger deployment: “We have the ability to contribute a sizable amount if required.”
Britain will also provide “logistical, intelligence and surveillance support,” the Express reported. The country has already supplied two C-17 military transport aircraft and a Sentinel surveillance plane.
A spokesperson for the prime minister said that it was “made clear that we fully support the French government’s actions …. we are keen to provide further assistance where we can, depending on what French requirements there may be.”
However, Downing Street has been evasive as to the specific number they will be sending. A Daily Telegraph report estimated that up to 500 military personnel will be sent overseas, while the Guardian places the figure closer to 200.
Prime Minister Cameron sent his national security adviser, Sir Kim Darroch, to Paris on Monday to enter discussions regarding what further assistance Britain would provide. The exact nature of the help is expected to be revealed in the near future, as France outlines what kind of aid it requires.
France has declared that, so far, they are “winning this battle.” It the past two weeks, French forces have had major successes in pushing back the Islamist troops who seized strongholds in northeastern Mali. The French gained a footing in the ancient city of Timbuktu as recently as yesterday.
Islamist forces seized control of Timbuktu last April, imposing sharia law in the city. France responded to calls from the Malian government to suppress the uprising that was gripping the country.
Prior to leaving, the Islamists set alight toTimbuktu’s world-famous research center, the Ahmed Baba, which opened in 2009 and housed over 20,000 documents, including medieval manuscripts, many of which remained unstudied. The destruction has been labeled “cultural vandalism” and a “devastating loss.”