First British plane leaving to help French Mali mission
LONDON - Agence France-Presse
A picture dated March 20, 2012 shows a British Royal Air Force C-17 transport plane comes in to land at RAF Brize Norton in Carterton. AFP PhotoThe first British plane destined to help the French military mission in Mali was set to leave Sunday as a minister insisted that Britain's role would not increase the risk of terror attacks.
The Royal Air Force C-17 transport plane based at the RAF Brize Norton base in Oxfordshire, central England, is due to fly to France first to pick up equipment before flying to Mali, possibly on Monday, officials said.
Prime Minister David Cameron agreed in a phone call with French President Francois Hollande on Saturday to provide two of the jets for logistical support, although Britain will not deploy any personnel in a combat role.
"It is likely that the first aircraft will leave the UK today," a Ministry of Defence spokeswoman told AFP.
"It will go to France first, obviously this will need to be loaded with French assets and that will take time, it depends on what needs to be loaded." Military sources said it would take about 10 hours to fly from France to Mali.
France sent its air force on Friday to help Malian troops hold back an advance by Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist rebels towards the capital Bamako in the former French colony.
Britain's Foreign Office warned on Sunday that following the French military intervention in Mali "there is a possibility of retaliatory attacks targeting Western interests in the region." Africa Minister Mark Simmonds said Britain was responding to a French request for help, and denied that by sending the planes Britain or its interests were at greater risk of a backlash by Islamist extremists.
"We are only providing limited logistical support in response to a French request -- two planes," he told Sky News.
"The terrorists have made their plans very clear before intevention anyway and before we responded to the French request," he told Sky News.
French authorities were on high alert on Sunday amid fears of a backlash on home soil, with armed troops patrolled rail and subway stations in Paris and security around airports and public buildings.
Simmonds meanwhile said there "no plans to extend the UK's military involvment at the moment" but said there were discussions through the European Union to provide training for African Union troops headed to Mali.