Daily Trust (Abuja)

Nigerian Troops May Stay Three Years in Mali

Bamako — Nigerian troops deployed to Mali last month for the ongoing military operation in the country's northern part under a coalition of UN-backed African forces are not likely to return soon as the military support mission may last at least three years given the possibility that the Ansar Dine fighters will resort to guerrilla tactics.

Up till now neither France which is leading the expensive operation nor Malian authorities could clearly tell the whereabouts of Ansar Dine fighters who were said to have blended with urban populations or taken refuge in villages near the desert.

Daily Trust learnt on good authority in Bamako that it was not clear that any of the cities said to have taken over by French forces have really been cleared of the insurgents or that victory will be won easily.

"The situation has now taken a dangerous dimension as the insurgents have retreated to the desert besides the fact that several others have blended with urban populations; and this does not mean the battle has been won as they will later regroup for guerrilla fight," a diplomat told our reporter.

"So it is wrong for one to simply suggest that the mission will be accomplished soon because it is not an easy thing. In fact, it may last at least three years or even more," she said. Again, going by the proposal to begin withdrawing French troops hopefully next month with the 'mission accomplished', the Malian army and UN-backed African forces have to remain to stabilise the north and nobody can tell how long it will take to do that, the diplomat said.

It was learnt that the $500 million initially required for the operation may not necessarily be enough as another $500 million is needed given the enormous challenges ahead.

At the start of the mission, AU member nations were to jointly contribute $50 million; Nigeria, Egypt, South Africa and Algeria were to jointly pay 60 percent of the amount while the remaining members were to contribute the remaining.

Daily Trust also gathered that Nigeria will in addition contribute $5 million this week to the mission's donor fund. She is also presenting a large consignment of assorted relief materials that will be presented to the Malian authorities in Bamako on Sunday by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) in aid for people of northern Mali.

As of Monday there were 481 Nigerian ground troops in Mali, and with the deployment of additional troops on Tuesday Nigeria now has more than 500 troops so far for the military mission. This is in addition to the 300 air troops already deployed and strategically stationed in Niger Republic.

It was learnt that the Nigerian air troops were kept in Niger Republic essentially on the strength that it will be easier for them to reach the trouble spots than fly from inside Mali for air strikes.

Our correspondent reports that Nigerian ground troops have been stationed in Banamba, about 120 kilometres from Bamako, the capital of Mali and nearly 1000 kilometres to the trouble zone. It was gathered that Nigerian soldiers are expected to be deployed to all areas near the Mauritanian border to control the entrance to Mauritania and Mali as well, and this is in line with the mission's operational plan.

It was learnt that France has much confidence in Chadian troops because of Chad's known war record for decades and exceptional desert navigation skills, hence the full integration of its troops to invade northern Mali with French forces leading. Chad is said to have deployed 2500 troops with 52 armoured tankers for the operation.

Troops from Burkina Faso and Togo are still in southern part of Mali to guard infrastructures such as dams, roads, public buildings as well as many other essential amenities from being destroyed by insurgents.

Our correspondent also reports that heads of the UN-backed African forces have been meeting in Bamako since Thursday last week to review the mission's concept of operations, especially as regards deployment and other military strategy.

When contacted, the Director of Defence Information Colonel Mohammed Yerima said it will be difficult for anyone to determine the end of a conflict once it starts, especially the current one in Mali. He said the mandate given to the military in Mali was to restore normalcy.

He said: "Nigerian troops will remain in Mali for as long as the heads of states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) want them to do so. We were asked to take part in the peace effort there by the ECOWAS."

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