News24

African army chiefs meet on Mali conflict

2013-01-15 16:27

Bamako - West African army chiefs met in Bamako on Tuesday on plans to send African troops to join an offensive against Islamists occupying northern Mali, as France pressed on with air strikes against the insurgents.

"We are here today to speak essentially about the engagement alongside our Malian brothers in arms, to liberate the north of Mali," said Ivory Coast army chief General Soumaila Bakayoko.

Ivorian leader Alassane Ouattara is the acting president of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas).

The regional bloc is shaping a UN-mandated force of at least 3 300 soldiers, whose deployment has been fast-tracked by France's swift intervention to stop the Islamists from advancing towards the Malian capital.

The force will be known as the International Mission of Support in Mali (MISMA) and will be led by Nigeria, which plans to have 600 troops on the ground in Mali "before next week", President Goodluck Jonathan said on Monday.

Benin, Ghana, Niger, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Togo have also pledged troops.

But experts have warned it could take months before the African troops are fully operational.

MISMA will be expected to bear the burden of on-the-ground operations, with support from French air strikes which have already battered the Islamists in their northern strongholds.