29 January 2013

Mission creep

It is less than two weeks since Mr Cameron stated unambiguously that there would no British troops on the ground in Mali.  Now look at the latest position, as reported by The Guardian:

Britain is prepared to provide hundreds of troops to help the operation and is considering a few options:
• Forming part of an EU military training mission in Mali. The British contribution to this would be in the "tens", according to Downing Street.
• Training troops from the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) in neighbouring countries for possible operations on Mali. This is likely to be the main focus of Britain's contribution because Ecowas members include many countries with strong links to Britain. British troops could be used to train Nigerian forces.
• Providing "force protection" for the trainers. This would be armed protection but would not amount to a combat role.
Downing Street is adamant that British troops will play no part in combat. A spokesman said: "We have the capability and capacity to do that. We have the ability to contribute a sizeable amount if required."
Britain initially put two RAF C17 transporter aircraft at the disposal of France for the transport of troops and material to Mali. One of these is still dedicated to the Mali mission.
Britain has also sent one RAF Sentinel surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft to Senegal to help with the mission. The Guardian reported last week that a small number of British special forces soldiers were on the ground in Mali advising the French.

Aeroplanes need to be supplied and maintained; troops need to be equipped, housed and fed.  And experience has shown that training and advisory missions have a habit of expanding into other activities.

What are we getting into here?  What are the objectives?  What length of commitment?  And, crucially, how do we get out?

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