Editors Notes: Special operation teams from EU military/NATO are currently conducting military operations in the West Africa/ Sahel Region of North Africa. Related Articles: French Special Forces operating in Libya and Mali, French, British, Italian and Spanish Special Military Units Established to Target Al-Qaeda in the Sahel, U.S. military launched series of clandestine-intelligence missions in North Africa, US Deploys military aircrafts across Middle East-North Africa
West African leaders met on Sunday in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, to put the final touches to a military plan drawn up with input from the EU and the United Nations.
The mission, expected to launch early next year, will be made up of as many as 3,300 troops, most of them from Mali but with reinforcements from Niger, Burkina Faso and other African nations.
“We expect that there will be support from the EU in the order of 200 to 400 military support troops to help train the African Union force,” one European diplomat with knowledge of the proceedings said.
The soldiers would mostly be tasked with training local forces and would not take part in fighting, the diplomat added.
Ansar Dine, an Islamist militia with ties to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, seized territory the size of France in Mali’s north after a military coup in March that ousted the government in the capital, Bamako.
Since then, the group has implemented strict Islamic law and has desecrated ancient sites in Timbuktu, claiming that they were “idolatrous” and against Islam.
International security agencies fear that northern Mali could become a safe haven for foreign fighters allied to al-Qaeda who are seeking territory from which to launch attacks against Western interests.
At the opening of the talks, Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s president, said that the mission’s aim would be to defeat the Islamists to a “avert costly consequences”.
Military strategists from France, Spain, Germany, Italy and Poland will meet on Thursday to discuss their expected support for the intervention.
Britain has said that “no option is off the table” but has stopped short of committing resources so far.
The blueprint agreed in Abuja will be sent to the United Nations for discussion ahead of a Security Council resolution expected before the end of November.