Today, the U.K. announced that it would be sending around 350 troops to support the French operation in Mali, which means Prime Minister David Cameron has some explaining to do. Two weeks ago, he promised there would be no British troops on the ground on Mali. Last week Cameron promised Britain would only send "tens, not hundreds" of troops to help in the fight. Now the number is growing—as is Europe's role in West African conflict.
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The 350 military personne, includes up to 40 military who will train soldiers in Mali and "200 British soldiers to be sent to neighbouring African countries to assist in the training of the army," reports the BBC. Secretary of Defense Jim Murphy made it very clear the did not want people to see this as another war that their country shouldn't have been in. He told the BBC:
We have to be very clear about how long we intend to be there [and] what it is we're seeking to achieve, so that the public, who are wary and weary after Iraq and Afghanistan, don't say 'Oh not again'
Well, judging from the people who believed Cameron's earlier promises and are now calling this a "mission creep", getting public support for this intervention is going to be very difficult. And it will be even more difficult for Cameron to find support if its troops are forced into a combat roll. Tuesday's pledge of 350 troops comes with a promise that they're there for "military support" not combat, but the Mali Islamists probably won't see it that way.
Big picture-wise, the involvement of British troops is one more sign that the Mali conflict isn't over and that the longer this drags out, the more countries will be getting involved. It was on January 21 that the U.S. began lending a logistical hand to France, by providing airlifts into the region. For now, the French have over 2,000 troops in Mali and 1,000 more "supporting the operation from elsewhere" according to CNN, and it is still unclear how long they plan to be there. Even though they believe they have a good handle on the war, French President Francois Hollande said at a press conference on Monday, these things tend to last much longer than anyone originally plans.
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