- Title: BELGIUM: French general says EU Mali mission should be extended
- Date: 17th July 2013
- Summary: BRUSSELS, BELGIUM (RECENT) (REUTERS) EXTERIOR OF EUROPEAN COUNCIL BUILDING EUROPEAN FLAGS REFLECTED ON WINDOW
- Embargoed: 1st August 2013 13:00
- Location: Belgium
- Country: Belgium
- Topics: General
- Reuters ID: LVAEGACYXJ3Q68PFMKMSKR88C2QD
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- Story Text: The French commander of a European Union mission to train Mali's army, routed by rebels last year, said on Wednesday (July 17) he believed the mission should be expanded and go on for at least a year longer than originally planned.
The EU trainers, dispatched to Mali in the wake of a French-led military intervention in January that drove al Qaeda-allied Islamist insurgents out of the main northern towns, face a big challenge in turning Mali's rag-tag army into a capable force.
Years of corruption and neglect led the army to a string of defeats against the militants last year, sparking a military coup by disgruntled officers in the capital, Bamako.
The EU mission, given the task of training four battalions each consisting of 700 soldiers, is scheduled to end by March next year.
But General Francois Lecointre, the commander of the EU training mission who was in Brussels this week to brief ambassadors and EU officials on the progress of the mission, said he thought more time would be needed.
"We can't claim to help a nation rebuild itself in a sustainable way, and build its army just given a year to do this. We need time and we need to be aware of the traumas suffered by Mali and the degree to which its army had collapsed. So I would plead for things to be done over a period of time," Lecointre said.
But training four extra battalions would mean the mission would have to be extended by at least a year, he said.
"Today, when it comes to battalion training, I think it's necessary to add at least a year to train four additional battalions. Now, in different forms in terms of accompanying and restructuring the Malian army, but with also gradual disengagement and the reduction in the volume of mission, perhaps we most likely need more than one extra year."
The general, who is due to step down from his post at the start of August, stressed that these were his personal views.
"I think that clearly we shouldn't stop at the training of half the Malian army but that we should be able to train the other half - not four battlaions which today make up half the Malian army, but more," he told the news conference.
EU planners will carry out a strategic review from September that will look at the future of the mission.
He said the most urgent equipment need for the Malian army was trucks.
Twenty-three EU member states are contributing personnel to the mission, which has a total staff of around 550 and a budget of around 12.3 million euros.
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