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WAR REPORT
AU seeks additional troops for Mali mission
by Staff Writers
Addis Ababa (AFP) Jan 25, 2013


West African defence chiefs begin talks on Mali force
Abidjan (AFP) Jan 26, 2013 - West African defence chiefs met in Abidjan on Saturday to discuss "boosting" an African force in Mali aimed at supporting French and Malian troops in their offensive against Islamists.

The meeting is designed to ensure the "boosting of the (MISMA) International Support Mission for Mali," said General Soumaila Bakayoko, head of Ivory Coast's army, whose country currently leads the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) bloc.

Bakayoko said increasing the force's numbers and moving it swiftly into action was "essential" in helping MISMA "accomplish its mission" in helping rid Mali of hardline Islamists that have occupied its north for 10 months.

Saturday's talks will determine exactly how many troops each country in the 15-nation bloc is willing to pledge but "particularly commit to deploying troops as quickly as possible," said Ivorian Defence Minister Paul Koffi Koffi.

Nearly 1,000 African troops are already on the ground in Bamako and across Mali, Koffi said, out of a total force of 4,500 troops promised by ECOWAS.

Koffi also welcomed the logistical support provided by the West in the shape of aircraft to ferry troops and equipment into and around Mali, which he said would "allow MISMA to become operational."

The deployment of African forces has been delayed by financing and logistical problems, leaving French and Malian troops to do all of the fighting so far.

Though not a member of ECOWAS, Chad -- which has highly trained soldiers that are experienced in desert warfare -- has deployed 2,000 troops to Niger to act as a buffer force.

On Friday, the African Union called for a bolstering of troops and said it would seek urgent "temporary" logistical support for the force from the United Nations.

The African Union is seeking to bolster the strength of the African-led force in Mali, or AFISMA, and has given member states one week to commit troops to the mission, officials said Friday.

"We definitely know, based on the first assumptions... that the force size will have to be significantly augmented," AU peace and security commissioner Ramtane Lamamra told reporters.

Lamamra said AFISMA's strength should be increased "to better respond to the needs on the ground," speaking after a high-level security meeting in the Ethiopian capital.

He said the AU would also seek urgent "temporary" logistical support from the United Nations for AFISMA.

The AU asked the UN to "authorize... the immediate establishment by the UN of temporary arrangements that would enable AFISMA to speedily deploy and effectively implement its mandate," Lamamra said, adding that the measures were necessary to respond effectively to the emergency in the West African nation.

The logistical support the AU sought includes transport, medicine and field hospitals, Lamamra said.

The United Nations has authorised the deployment of a 3,300-strong force under the auspices of West African bloc ECOWAS. But the involvement of Chad, which has committed up to 2,000 troops and is not an ECOWAS member, means the force could now be much bigger.

France has already deployed 2,300 troops to Mali and defence officials acknowledge the force is likely to exceed the 2,500 soldiers that were initially presented as the upper limit.

The AU urged "member states willing to contribute troops to AFISMA to inform the AU and ECOWAS Commissions within a period of one week" whether they would deploy troops in Mali.

The security meeting took place ahead of Sunday's AU summit, where the crisis in Mali is expected to top the agenda.

France swept to the aid of the weakened Malian army on January 11 as Islamist rebels controlling large swathes of the country's north pushed south towards the capital Bamako, amid rising fears the zone could become a haven for terrorism.

The rebels swept through northern Mali -- taking over key towns Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal -- following a coup last year.

The French-led offensive entered its third week with a strong push into the vast semi-arid zone amid rising humanitarian concerns for people in the area facing a dire food crisis.

African leaders are set to meet Tuesday for a donors conference to drum up further funds for Mali operations. The meeting will include representatives from the European Union and the UN Security Council.

Britain sends surveillance plane to Mali conflict
London (AFP) Jan 25, 2013 - A British surveillance plane took off on Friday to support French military operations against Al Qaeda-linked rebels in Mali, the Ministry of Defence said.

The Sentinel plane lifted off from RAF Waddington airbase in eastern England "to an airbase in Africa, in support of French military operations in Mali", a spokesman said, adding it will be based in neighbouring Senegal.

Britain has already contributed two C-17 transport planes to France to airlift military equipment to Mali, although only one of the giant planes is still being used.

Defence Minister Philip Hammond said the Sentinel had been used in the conflict in Libya last year and is currently being deployed to support British forces fighting insurgents in Afghanistan.

"Following discussions with the French, we have now decided to deploy Sentinel, a surveillance capability that has proved its worth in Libya and on an ongoing basis for counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan," he said.

Prime Minister David Cameron has given France's military intervention his full backing, but has stressed that Britain is not considering sending troops to the West African country.

The Sentinel can observe what is happening on the ground and feed information to military commanders.

French and Malian troops on Friday advanced on the key Islamist stronghold of Gao after recapturing the northern town of Hombori as the military operation moved into a third week.

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