The EU foreign ministers have expressed support for the French operation in Mali, and they've agreed to expedite the deployment of a military training mission in the region. But the trainers won't play a combat role.
Although the Europeans are relieved that France has intervened so quickly in Mail, at this stage they don't plan on sending any combat troops to support their ally, but instead have opted to deploy military advisors.
As Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said on Thursday (17.01.2013) at the EU foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels. "If nothing had happened last week, Bamako would have fallen and Mali would no longer exist. And after Mali, Niger would have been at risk and many other countries."
Asselborn had come straight from the United Nations in New York, and he said that the diplomatic situation was an extraordinary one: "I believe that never in the history of the UN Security Council has a mission like this one by France, which was after all a unilateral decision, received so much support." There was no criticism of French unilateralism in Brussels either.
Fears of emerging terrorist threat
The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, sees his country as the "trailblazer," but he said that everyone should be worried about terrorism. His Malian counterpart, Tiéman Coulibaly, took part in the meeting and called for assistance, saying that a developing nation like Mali had limited means and therefore needed outside help. Terrorism could "strike anywhere, any time and against anyone," he said. "That's why we have to organize and join our forces together."
The Netherlands foreign minister, Frans Timmermans, agreed: "There is not one European country that can hide if the threat [of jihadi terrorism] were to present itself to the European continent."
But the support was largely limited to words. The EU wants to send between 200 and 250 military instructors who are to help the Malian army and the forces of the West African community ECOWAS reach a stage where they can fight the rebels for themselves. Giulio Terzo of Italy said the number "could be doubled to 500 if necessary." The mission will be paid for by the EU.
The training mission was originally planned to start in a few months, but its deployment will now be expedited, probably to mid-February. The instructors will not take part in any fighting.
The German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, called the mission "extremely important." In the long run, he said, "there can be no European or military solution in Mali, in the long run, it's got to be the African forces that will have to deal with it."
It's still not clear how far the EU will help finance the ECOWAS mission. Fabius said that "all European countries" were being called upon to do so.
Calls for Mali to return to democracy
The Germans will in any case be supplying two Transall transport aircraft to carry ECOWAS forces. Nobody has offered fighting troops yet. Westerwelle rejected criticism that Germany was doing too little. He said that Germany was already significantly involved in Afghanistan, whereas France had already pulled out there: "As a result it's easy to understand that our capacities are limited."
A few days ago, the security affairs spokesman of the conservative European Peoples' Party group in the European Parliament, Michael Gahler, called for the Polish-German-French EU battlegroup to be deployed in Mali on what would be its first mission. A battlegroup is a battalion-sized unit provided to the EU for a period of at least six months. But the idea was not considered at the meeting.
The British government has also offered logistical help, but the British minister for Europe, David Lidington, pointed to the difficult political situation in Mali, where the country is ruled by a transitional government following a military coup. He said the Malian government must "reach out to people in the north of Mali who are not terrorists or extremists so that they can rebuild a network of popular support for the reunification of their country."
The EU as a whole has also called upon Mali to return to democracy, but, as a sign of good faith, it will resume the development aid which it had suspended after the coup.
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