HELSINKI — The Norwegian government has asked the Defense Command to produce a report on the risks and costs of sending special forces or a combined air and specialized ground units to Mali in support of French troops on the ground.
Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has told government and opposition parties that Norway will not stand idly by as the country’s oil interests in Africa are threatened. The government’s objective, he said, would be to prevent extreme Islamists from conducting terror campaigns against neighboring states from Mali. Norway, through the state owned corporation Statoil, has major oil and gas interests in the region.
Statoil has begun to strengthen security around its various overseas oil processing plants and field operations that employ more than 22,000 people. The company is also set to hire ex-Norwegian military as consultants and to serve as armed guards at its most vulnerable oil complexes.
Statoil, along with British Petroleum and Sonatrach, is a key owner in the In Amenas gas production terminal, which was attacked by Islamist terrorists with ties to al-Qaida on Jan. 16. Four of Statoil’s employees, mainly hostages, died during the attack and subsequent siege by Algerian forces.
“I have discussed the attacks in Algeria and the crisis in Mali with French President François Hollande. The attack on In Amenas is the worst ever against Norwegian economic interests. It has mobilized political leadership and interstate cooperation to defeat this threat,” Stoltenberg said.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide said that sending Norwegian forces to Mali in support of French operations against extreme Islamists remained a possibility. These al-Qaida linked extremists, said Eide, were attempting to build a bridgehead in Mali to generate unrest in neighboring states.
“While there is no definite decision on sending Norwegian forces, it could well be that we will contribute militarily in Mali. We must hinder extreme Islamist forces from establishing themselves in northern Mali,” said Eide, who changed ministerial postings from defense to foreign affairs in September.
Eide said the attack in Algeria was most probably an “inside job.” Intelligence available to the Norwegian government indicated that Islamist militants had placed weapons inside the complex ahead of Jan. 16, he said.
Defense Minister Anne-Grete Strøm Erichsen said that Norway is also considering the possibility of sending troops as part of a pan-Nordic “Force Training Operation” in support of a European Union initiative to re-build the Mali Army.