Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Admiral Ola Sa'ad Ibrahim
By Senator Iroegbu and Damilola Oyedele
The Federal Government has approved the deployment of a battalion, comprising 776 soldiers, to Mali to boost a sub-regional military effort to reclaim the crisis-torn country from Islamist insurgents who have taken over the northern part of the Sahelian nation.
With the approval, over 100 of the troops will depart for Mali in the next 24 hours for peacekeeping in the war-ravaged West African nation, in line with the mandate of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
The Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Admiral Ola Sa'ad Ibrahim, Tuesday announced government’s approval for the troops to leave for Mali at a press briefing in Abuja, which was addressed by the Director of Defence Information (DDI), Colonel Mohammed Yerima.
Ibrahim said out of the battalion, a company, comprising 190 soldiers, was due to depart the country for Mali in the next 24 hours.
“The Defence Headquarters (DHQ) would continue to deploy personnel to Mali until a battalion is deployed,” he said.
He said that the deployment was based on President Goodluck Jonathan's order, a decision, which he noted was in line with Nigeria's peacekeeping role and in the spirit of African brotherhood.
“Already, the Force Commander, Major General Shehu Usman Abdulkadir, is on the ground in Mali," he added.
The CDS said a technical team of the Nigerian Army and Air Force was already in Mali to facilitate the eventual full deployment of fighter aircraft and support elements.
According to him, the deployment of troops was in line with a request by the Malian government, that security forces from ECOWAS be deployed to assist the country in reclaiming the northern part of the country from Islamic militants.
He further stated that the Nigerian troops would work with troops from other West African countries and some other western forces, including the French, which were already in the country.
THISDAY learnt that the troops would be departing from their final base at the Nigerian Army Peacekeeping Centre, Jaji, Kaduna State.
Jonathan on Monday had unfolded plans by Nigeria to deploy troops in Mali this week.
The president, while hosting members of the diplomatic corps to a cocktail at the State House, Abuja, had said the deployment had become necessary in order to help restore peace to the country.
In the light of ongoing events in Mali, the European Union Commission has also said it is taking stock of the situation and is considering a possible action which would include the rapid deployment of EU Training Mission (EUTM) troops to train and advise the Malian troops in their onslaught against Al-Qaeda backed rebels.
It also said it was considering financial and logistical assistance for the deployment of African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA) and other direct support to the government of Mali.
The Vice-President/High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Ms. Catherine Ashton, in a statement issued in Brussels, Tuesday said the commission already had held a crisis platform meeting on the Mali situation.
The situation in Mali, the EU said, highlighted the need for accelerated international engagement to restore the territorial integrity of Mali, in line with the UNSC Resolution 2085.
“It will accelerate preparations for the deployment of a military mission to Mali to provide training and advice to the Malian forces and it is taking action to support the rapid deployment of the African led international Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA),” it said.
“The EU remains in close touch with other international actors, including the African Union and ECOWAS to ensure a united international response to the situation,” Ashton added in the statement released by the EU Commission in Abuja.
The EU reiterated that it would implement sanctions against any group of individuals affiliated to terrorist groups in Mali while calling on the Malian government to finalise work on a transitional roadmap to restore a democratic government in the country.