Around 200 EU military trainers are to be deployed to Mali by mid-February.
The European Union will move to consolidate its support for Mali over the coming two weeks, following a French intervention to halt the advance of Islamist rebels. The initial focus is on ensuring that around 200 EU military trainers are deployed to Mali by mid-February, a date agreed last Thursday (17 January) when EU foreign ministers met in crisis session.
The training mission, which is being led by a French brigadier-general, François Lecointre, will also include around 250 security guards, medical teams and other support staff. Governments, which will foot much of the bill for the mission, are currently co-ordinating how many people they will assign to the mission. Laurent Fabius, France's foreign minister, has said publicly that France's goal is to stop the rebels and push them back, then to hand the task of defeating the rebels to an African force being formed by Ecowas, a West African regional grouping. This was also a plan agreed in December by the United Nations.
Diplomats and EU officials say that France has not asked for any help from the EU other than for accelerated deployment of EU trainers. “This is all about African ownership,” a senior EU official said, adding that the possibility of deploying an EU battle-group has not been touched on. France has increased its troops in Mali to more than 2,000, with 2,500 being the target.
Around 2,000 African troops are now in the country, a figure that under the UN plan will rise to 3,300.
Funding for the Malian army and the African intervention force will be the focus of a meeting of international donors in Addis Ababa on Tuesday (29 January).
Preliminary estimates suggest that around $200 million (€150m) will be earmarked for the Malian army and another $200m to support the Ecowas mission.
That meeting will be followed on 31 January by a meeting of EU foreign ministers and on 5 February by an international meeting in Brussels. The EU is also intending to improve policy co-ordination, increase humanitarian aid and help fill the vacuum left when – as hoped – territory is recaptured from the Islamists.
However, around €230m earmarked for development aid was frozen last year when a coup ousted the country's president. The EU has made release of those funds conditional on Mali's return to democracy.
The crisis in Mali and this week's terrorist assault in Algeria, which ended in the deaths of 38 hostages, are likely to reinforce the importance of foreign ministers' scheduled debate on security in Africa. The provisional agenda is focused on the Horn of Africa and Somalia, where the EU has a training mission viewed as a model for its Mali mission.
The EU extended the mission's mandate for two years on Tuesday (22 January). Libya's borders Ambassadors to the EU are currently agreeing the final details of a blueprint for a mission to help Libya tighten control of its long borders, including its borders with Algeria and Mali's neighbour, Niger.
The EU is also exploring the possibility of further security-reform missions to the region. One was established in Niger in mid-2012. These are efforts expected to be developed by an EU special envoy to the region, a post agreed by foreign ministers when they met last week. The attention now being paid to Mali is a partial success for France, a non-French diplomat said, noting that France has been trying to convince the EU to focus on the Sahel region since 2008.
© 2013 European Voice. All rights reserved.