15 January 2013
Last updated at 13:15
Troops from a regional West African force will be in Mali within days to help a French intervention against Islamist rebels, Nigeria says.
The force’s commander, Gen Shehu Abdulkadir, confirmed the move to the BBC as West African military commanders met in Mali’s capital, Bamako.
France has 750 troops in Mali and is expected to increase that to 2,500.
It began its intervention last Friday with the aim of halting the Islamists’ advance south.
Nigeria now plans to provide 900 troops for the force, 300 more than previously announced.
The force is expected to be 3,300 strong. It will be deployed under UN Security Council resolution 2085, which was passed in December.
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France’s wider goal in this campaign is unclear. Is this a mission to push back and contain the Islamist forces? Or is its aim that the government in Bamako expand its control into the vast north of the country?
That is a huge task in military terms, leaving aside the very real political problems which in many ways precipitated this crisis in the first place.
France speaks of handing over the mission to African forces as soon as possible. But how effective will the multinational West African force be?
And what about the Malian army itself? It has suffered severe reverses. It has lost quantities of equipment. It needs to be reformed and retrained. Key EU countries are willing to undertake this task – but again, it will take time.
The African troops may well require French air power and logistical support for the foreseeable future. And for the moment, it is largely French forces that must hold the line.
Nigerian Col Mohammed Yerima said: “The president approved the deployment of a battalion, and in the next 24 hours a company of the battalion will be deployed.”
Nigeria has the biggest military in Ecowas, the regional grouping that is overseeing the military response.
Ivory Coast army chief Gen Soumaila Bakayoko said: “We are here today to speak essentially about the engagement alongside our Malian brothers in arms, to liberate the north of Mali.”
Benin, Ghana, Niger, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Togo have also pledged troops.
A summit of West African leaders on Saturday is expected to discuss the crisis further, as will a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Thursday.
French warplanes have carried out a series of air strikes on Islamist positions since the intervention began on Friday.
The raids continued overnight, with President Francois Hollande saying they had “achieved their goal”.
He told RFI radio: “We are confident about the speed with which we will be able to stop the aggressors, the enemy, these terrorists.”
Raids on Diabaly
Islamists are reported to have withdrawn from the major towns of Timbuktu and Gao.
They struck back by taking Diabaly, 400km (250 miles) north-east of Bamako, on Monday.
Major air strikes were carried out overnight to try to dislodge them.
At least 11 Malian soldiers and a French helicopter pilot have died in Mali since Friday’s intervention. More than 100 militants are reported to have been killed.
Islamist groups and secular Tuareg rebels took advantage of chaos following a military coup to seize northern Mali in April 2012.
But the Islamists soon took control of the region’s major towns, sidelining the Tuaregs.
The UN says some 144,500 Malian refugees have been registered in neighbouring countries since April 2012.
It also says that 30,000 people have been displaced as a direct result of conflict this month.
The battle for Mali
Mali conflict: West African troops to arrive ‘in days’ – BBC News
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