ABIDJAN— Defense officials from the West African regional body ECOWAS met in Abidjan on Saturday to discuss options for expediting the deployment of more African troops to Mali. Though some African troops have already arrived, officials acknowledge that they require training and funding.
Ivory Coast Defense Minister Paul Koffi Koffi said Saturday that nearly 1,000 African troops were already in Mali, not just in the capital Bamako but “throughout the entire country.”
ECOWAS has been discussing plans to send roughly 3,000 troops to the landlocked country ever since Islamists took over its northern half following a coup last March.
The U.N. Security Council in December approved an ECOWAS deployment for September of this year, but deployment plans were fast-tracked after the Islamists made a push toward Bamako earlier this month, prompting French forces to intervene.
The French have so far taken the lead on the military intervention, with some assistance from Mali’s army. But French leaders have stressed that African forces will need to take the lead.
Koffi Koffi said ECOWAS officials were determined to make that happen as soon as possible.
He says “What is at stake here is crucial, for it involves confirming the various elements that were identified but also, and more especially, to make the commitment that in the shortest time possible men will be deployed on the ground.” He says “Following that we should also clearly identify needs, particularly logistical support, and to see to what extent such logistical support can be deployed on the ground.”
Also present at Saturday’s meeting was Nigerian General, Shehu Usman Abdulkadir, who was named commander of the African intervention force during a meeting of ECOWAS heads of state one week ago.
Abdulkadir told reporters he believed the buildup of troops was progressing satisfactorily, though he declined to say when they would all arrive. "I can’t tell you when the deadline will be but I want to ensure the international community that the buildup has continued and some troops from troop-contributing countries have been deployed," he said.
He also said he did not believe there would be trouble coordinating the African troops, which will come from a mix of English speaking and French speaking countries.
"It’s very wonderful. It’s encouraging. Right now the Burkinabes are operating on the same axis as the French. So the issue of difference is not there. We have a common problem and we’re going to approach it with the professionalism that the military is known for," Abdulkadir stated.