UK troops to train Mali forces
Ministers have denied that Britain is being sucked into the conflict to drive Islamist militants from Mali as the Government committed more troops to the region.
Downing Street announced that up to 200 UK military advisers will be deployed to help train a West African intervention force being prepared to take over from French troops once they have stabilised the situation.
The advisers will be in addition to up to 40 personnel Britain is offering to contribute to a European Union training mission to build up the fledgling Malian army.
At the same time, allies such as the United States will be allowed to fly air-to-air refuelling missions from British airbases in support of French operations, while the loan of one of the two RAF C-17 transport assigned to support the mission is to be extended for another three months.
Discussions are also taking place on the possible use of a British roll-on, roll-off ferry to ship heavy armour from France to the region. However an offer to establish a joint logistics headquarters in Mali to organise the supply of equipment to the French force troops was turned down by Paris.
Nevertheless the move was seen as an indication of David Cameron's determination to do all he can to help the French, short of sending British combat troops.
With around 90 UK personnel already committed in the region with the C-17s and an RAF Sentinel R1 surveillance aircraft operating out of Dakar, Senegal, it could take the numbers involved to more than 300.
In the Commons, there was concern among MPs that Britain was being drawn inexorably into a wider conflict.
Responding to an urgent question by Tory backbencher John Baron, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond rejected charges of "mission creep", insisting support for the French was in Britain's national interest.
"The UK has a clear interest in the stability of Mali and ensuring its territory does not become an ungoverned space available for al Qaida and its associates to organise attacks on the West," he said.
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