European countries fear that Mali could turn a terrorist ground.
The European Union might be sending 200 troops to train Mali’s army to retake the Islamist-held north, but is not willing to deploy them in battle, EU officials said on Tuesday.
Fears are growing in Europe that the African country could turn into a platform for terrorist attacks, after Islamist fighters seized two-thirds of its territory earlier this year.
“There is a willingness among member states to put boots on the ground but only on the parade ground,” an EU official said.
“I haven’t heard from member states a willingness to put people in the field.”
The EU discussions are among international efforts to mobilise against the militants in northern Mali, which has attracted Islamists, criminal networks and al Qaeda-linked gunmen.
The militants are recruiting hundreds of locals, including children, and a trickle of foreign fighters. The EU officials said the region
was becoming a haven for traffickers of people, drugs and cigarettes – and that this money was financing terrorists.
EU leaders said at a summit on October 19, that the Mali crisis is an “immediate threat” to Europe.
The Foreign ministers had four days earlier called on the EU diplomatic service to draw up a plan to help Mali’s military prepare
for a military campaign for the recovery of the territories.
Three such plans have been under consideration, said an EU official, “help only with training’’, plus reform of the army’s structure; or both, plus mentoring.
The third scenario envisaged sending EU troops into combat with Malian troops, but member states are not willing to risk sending
their troops into combat, said the official.
Instead, EU member states have decided that a combination of training and restructuring was the best option. Thus roughly 200 trainers, protected by a security force of a similar size, might be involved, said another EU official.
“The Malian army has 6,000 or 7,000 troops, which are mostly badly equipped and poorly trained, and suffer from low morale,
corruption and nepotism,” said the official. “It needs civilian control and clear lines of command to make it an effective fighting machine.’’
France, the region’s former colonial power, drafted an October 12 UN Security Council resolution asking African states and the UN for a Mali military intervention plan led by the West African Economic Community of West Africa State within 45 days.
ECOWAS has intervened in past African conflicts, including the wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The EU is considering help for ECOWAS with military planning and logistics, and an EU planner was already in Bamako helping on this, one of the EU officials said.
The EU diplomatic service plans to report on its plan for Mali at the next EU foreign ministers’ meeting, scheduled for Nov. 19, and
after that, planning could take months, or as much as a year, said one of the officials.
“We don’t overestimate the speed at which we can move,” he said.
Six French hostages are being held by the Islamists.
President Francois Hollande is said to believe there is a risk that al Qaeda’s North African arm, AQIM, is cementing its base in
the West African state and creating a launch pad for an attack on French soil.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in October: “If the north collapses, if terrorist training camps spring up it will also threaten us in Europe”.