Mali mission could become ‘Britain’s Vietnam’

by Tim Ross and James Kirkup, The Telegraph  |  published on January 31, 2013

The Defense Secretary said he knew the risks that the UK could become involved in a lengthy conflict but insisted the government had placed strict limits on deploying forces to help the Malian government repel fighters linked to Al Qaeda.

There are no plans for British troops to take on a “combat” role on the front-line but up to 40 will be deployed inside Mali itself as part of a European Union force to train Malian troops. A further 200 British personnel are poised to train troops from other African countries for the mission.

Some 70 personnel are already in the region operating a Sentinel spy plane, while 20 RAF crew are staffing a transport plane carrying equipment from France to Mali, the government said.

The detailed breakdown of Britain’s wider support to the French-led mission in Mali follows promises from David Cameron that the UK’s troop commitment would be in the “tens”, rather than hundreds or thousands.

During an urgent Commons debate on Britain’s deepening role in the crisis, Mr Hammond said France envisaged “a short intervention” to stabilize the situation before African troops take over.

“It is not our intention to deploy combat troops. We are very clear about the risk of mission creep and we have defined very carefully the support we are willing and able to provide to the French and the Malian authorities,” Mr Hammond said.

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