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UK backing for Mali offensive

More foreign troops headed to Mali.

More foreign troops headed to Mali.

LONDON — The United Kingdom is to deploy about 350 military personnel to Mali and West Africa to support French forces, No 10 has said.

This includes as many as 40 military advisers who will train soldiers in Mali and 200 British soldiers to be sent to neighbouring African countries, also to assist with training.

Downing Street dismissed suggestions the move constituted “mission creep”.

An international donors’ conference in Ethiopia aims to finance the budget for the campaign, set at US $950 million.

Downing Street has repeatedly insisted there is no question of British units getting involved in fighting – but Labour has called for further clarity on what part the UK might take in the French-led mission.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has been updating MPs on the latest deployments in Mali in the House of Commons.

The UK is already sending a C17 transport plane for three months and an RAF Sentinel surveillance aircraft.

Number 10 said it would also allow the US to operate air refuelling flights out of Britain.

And it offered a roll-on, roll-off Merchant Navy ferry to help transport equipment to the French force in Mali. It would dock at a port in a West African state to enable the kit to be moved across land to Mali.

The UK has also offered to set up a combined joint logistics HQ in Mali, however so far the French have declined this offer.

A Number 10 spokesman said the UK government was doing what it could to support the French military intervention, “contributing to both Malian training and training forces that are involved in providing a regionally-led approach”.

French-led troops are consolidating their position in the historic Malian city of Timbuktu after seizing it from Islamist extremists. (BBC)

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