French soldiers on armored vehicles followed by a logistic convoy make a stop in the desert Jan. 28 on their way to the city of Timbuktu, Mali. Britain plans to send additional troops to support the French effort in the African nation. (Eric Feferberg / AFP)
LONDON — Britain is stepping up its support of a French effort to oust Islamist militants from northern Mali with the government pledging the deployment of more than 300 military personnel to undertake training, logistics and surveillance duties.
The government said that up to 40 British military trainers could be deployed inside Mali, with another 200 destined to instruct soldiers from the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA) force expected to take over from French forces when they withdraw.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said there were no plans for British troops to get involved in combat operations.
Force protection would probably be provided by French troops already guarding the air base near Bamako, the Mali capital, where much of the in-country training would take place, he said.
European Union members are meeting in Brussels on Jan. 29 to discuss the contributions of individual states to a military training mission due to be set up in the coming weeks.
At the same time, the African Union is meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to discuss funding to support an AFISMA intervention force likely to comprise troops from Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Gambia.
Some 5 million pounds ($7.87 million) has been pledged by the British to improve security in Mali — some 3 million pounds of that will be directed at AFISMA forces.
Hammond told parliamentarians Jan. 29 that Britain’s effort in support of France was limited by the need not to “degrade” the air bridge and operations in Afghanistan. The British supplied two Royal Air Force C-17s from the outset of the French operation, providing airlift capacity to French forces that are short of air bridge capabilities.
In the last few days, the RAF has also operated a Sentinel surveillance aircraft over Mali to improve French ISTAR capabilities. The C-17 and Sentinel operations currently account for about 90 military personnel.
Last week, French officials described Britain’s response to requests for military assistance as “exemplary.” Hammond said that one of the C-17s would remain deployed in support of operations in Mali for up to three months. An extension to that deployment depended on the situation in Afghanistan, he said.
The Sentinel aircraft, based at Dakar in Senegal, will be deployed for as long as it can be provided without impacting on other operations, said Hammond.
The British have also offered the use of a roll-on roll-off ferry to transport heavy French military equipment to a port in a neighboring West African state before being moved across land to Mali.