US and UK intensifying push for Mali

US and UK intensifying push for Mali

US and UK intensifying push for Mali

French troops arrive in Mali’s Timbuktu after heavy clashes. REUTERS photo

Washington and London have stepped up efforts to counter increasing militancy in Africa, with the U.S. military planning to set up a regional base for drones to bolster surveillance of al-Qaeda’s regional affiliate and Britain offering up to 240 military trainers for Mali’s fight.

The base for the robotic, unmanned aircraft would likely be located in Niger, on the eastern border of Mali, where French forces are currently waging a campaign against al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), said a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The airfield would allow for better intelligence-gathering by unarmed drones on the movement of AQIM and other militants, which Washington considers a growing threat, the official said. Niger has given permission for drones to be stationed on its territory to improve intelligence on al-Qaeda-linked fighters in northern Mali and the wider Sahara, another senior government official said.

The U.S. ambassador to Niger, Bisa Williams, made the request at a meeting on Jan. 28 with President Mahamadou Issoufou, who immediately accepted it, the source said.

“Niger has given the green light to accepting American surveillance drones on its soil to improve the collection of intelligence on Islamist movements,” said the source.

The drones could be stationed in Niger’s northern desert region of Agadez, which borders Mali, Algeria and Libya, the source said.

Meanwhile, Britain has offered up to 240 military trainers for the conflict in Mali, with up to 40 to be sent to Mali and as many as 200 to train English-speaking troops in neighboring countries.

The 40 troops would assist an EU military training mission in Mali, while up to 200 personnel would help train soldiers from Anglophone West African countries in a force created by the ECOWAS regional grouping, the Downing Street spokesman said.

“Up to 240 is the current offer on the training force, split into two,” he said. “Today defense attachés from the 27 EU member states are meeting [in Brussels] to discuss the makeup of that training mission in Mali,” he said. “Our offer is that we are prepared to contribute up to 40 troops.”

African leaders and international officials also met yesterday in Addis Ababa to pledge funding for the African-led force for Mali (AFISMA), which will support Malian troops.

Compiled from AFP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.