The chief of Defence Staff (CDS) of the British Army has said that his government is committed to supporting The Gambia and other allies in West Africa, with ways and means for possible international peacekeeping missions in stabilising Northern Mali.
Sir General David Richards made this disclosure during an interview with reporters at the Kairaba Beach Hotel Friday, after his earlier audience with the vice president and minister of Women's Affairs, Her Excellency Aja Dr Isatou Njie-Saidy and some members of Cabinet at State House in Banjul.
The top British military chief, who is on a tour of four Anglophone West African nations, said The Gambia and Britain have very strong historical links and that his primary reason for visiting the country is to seek ways on how to further consolidate the ongoing military cooperation between the two countries.
He added: "At the moment, you all know the problem in Mali and your government has said it would like to be involved as a response from members of the West African community. And because we have these close relationships, we've come to see how we can best help The Gambia fulfill its role there."
General Richards acknowledged that the French advances in Mali have been very impressive, and have done a lot, adding that what is now left is sustaining the effect. He said The Gambia and other West African countries have volunteered to go and play a part in the stabilisation role.
He continued: "Also, a political strategy is central in getting this right and I think everybody involved knows that they need to work with the local population so as to satisfy local grievances and build structures for the long term. Well, I'm here to see how my prime minister's offer to very close friends in this region can best be implemented. So, I've come here to speak to your top people, politicians and chief of Defence Staff of the Gambia Armed Forces and we will send a team here within about 10 days to look at the details and develop a report we have already had," he said.
General Richards spoke enthusiastically about the warm reception accorded to him and delegation by officials of the Gambia government, stressing that the cordial relations between The Gambia and Great Britain is very evident. He acknowledged that the vice president and senior government officials he met including the CDS, have made him feel very comfortable, something that motivates him to come back.
Shortly after an audience with the vice president, the British army chief visited the Defence Headquarters where a Quarter Guard was mounted by personnel of GAF in honour of his visit.
General Richards later proceeded to Kairaba Beach Hotel, where the delegation was hosted to a dinner by Lt. Gen. Ousman Bargie and other senior officers of GAF. The dinner was characterised by the presentation of gifts to the visitors, something that symbolises the longstanding relationship between the two armed forces.