West African defence chiefs begin talks on Mali force
West African defence chiefs met in Abidjan on Saturday to discuss "boosting" an African force in Mali aimed at supporting French and Malian troops in their offensive against Islamists.
The meeting is designed to ensure the "boosting of the (MISMA) International Support Mission for Mali," said General Soumaila Bakayoko, head of Ivory Coast's army, whose country currently leads the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) bloc.
Bakayoko said increasing the force's numbers and moving it swiftly into action was "essential" in helping MISMA "accomplish its mission" in helping rid Mali of hardline Islamists that have occupied its north for 10 months.
Saturday's talks will determine exactly how many troops each country in the 15-nation bloc is willing to pledge but "particularly commit to deploying troops as quickly as possible," said Ivorian Defence Minister Paul Koffi Koffi.
Nearly 1,000 African troops are already on the ground in Bamako and across Mali, Koffi said, out of a total force of 4,500 troops promised by ECOWAS.
Koffi also welcomed the logistical support provided by the West in the shape of aircraft to ferry troops and equipment into and around Mali, which he said would "allow MISMA to become operational."
The deployment of African forces has been delayed by financing and logistical problems, leaving French and Malian troops to do all of the fighting so far.
Though not a member of ECOWAS, Chad -- which has highly trained soldiers that are experienced in desert warfare -- has deployed 2,000 troops to Niger to act as a buffer force.
On Friday, the African Union called for a bolstering of troops and said it would seek urgent "temporary" logistical support for the force from the United Nations.
© 2013 AFP