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January 28, 2013

Regional Leaders Want African Troop Surge in Mali

by Peter Clottey

West African heads of state have decided to send more troops to Mali in an effort to speed up the defeat of Islamic militants who control parts of that West African country, according to regional official.

The decision of the leaders is expected to lead to a deployment of 5,000 to 6,000 troops, up from the initially planned 3,300 troops.

The decision came as regional defense chiefs met over the weekend, said Sonny Ugoh, ECOWAS communications director of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

“They met to see how they can fast track the deployment of regional troops to support the Malian Armed Forces and the French Forces in northern Mali,” said Ugoh.

“It has become obvious to all that we will need beyond the 3,300 original pledges that they had [made] to deal with the situation,” Ugoh said. “Chadians are coming with about 2,000 troops and one or two other African countries have indicated that they also want to contribute.

“What is important is that there should be an expeditious deployment so that we can support the Malians and French Forces who are making quite some progress in dealing with the situation in the north,” he said. “And we need more boots on the ground to flush out the Islamists in northern Mali.”

Ugoh says contrary to earlier reports, the regional force will take on the Islamists militarily in an effort to restore government control in northern Mali.

“Of course they are equipped for combat role as part of the U.N. Security Council mandate,” Ugoh said of the African troops. “What we have said is that we needed the support of the international community to plug the gaps that we have identified in their ability to function effectively.”

He said ECOWAS wants to make sure that Mali remains a united country with a credible government.

“[ECOWAS wants] to maintain Mali’s territorial integrity. And then we have to go back to the consultative process and to develop a roadmap that will enable Malians to restore democratic governance, have a president that is elected and an elected parliament and have an inclusive process that gives everybody a sense of belonging and that is sustainable,” he said.

Meanwhile, ECOWAS is scheduled to host an international donors roundtable conference Tuesday in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.

The objective, Ugoh says, is to raise about $500 million to support the troop deployment to Mali.
Clottey interview with Sonny Ugoh, ECOWAS communications director