The Guardian reports that Cameron is ready to send troops into Afrighanistan, but not in a combat role – although that latter bit entirely depends on a cheating definition of “combat role” already used by the US in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Britain is prepared to take the risk of sending a “sizeable amount” of troops, to Mali and neighbouring West African countries as David Cameron offers strong support to France in its operation to drive Islamist militants from its former colony.
As news emerged that insurgents retreating from Timbuktu had set fire to a library containing thousands of priceless historic manuscripts, Downing Street said the prime minister told François Hollande on Sunday night Britain was “keen” to provide further military assistance to France.
Cameron despatched Sir Kim Darroch, his national security adviser, to Paris on Monday to discuss what help Britain could provide. Government sources said decisions on troop deployments were expected to be made in the coming days as France confirms its exact requirements. One source said that Britain could easily dispatch 200 troops if France requested such a number.
Britain is prepared to provide hundreds of troops to help the operation and is considering a few options:
• Forming part of an EU military training mission in Mali. The British contribution to this would be in the “tens”, according to Downing Street.
• Training troops from the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) in neighbouring countries for possible operations on Mali. This is likely to be the main focus of Britain’s contribution because Ecowas members include many countries with strong links to Britain. British troops could be used to train Nigerian forces.
• Providing “force protection” for the trainers. This would be armed protection but would not amount to a combat role.
Downing Street is adamant that British troops will play no part in combat. A spokesman said: “We have the capability and capacity to do that. We have the ability to contribute a sizeable amount if required.”
Personally, I’m of the opinion that if you’re carrying a gun and wearing a uniform in an occupied country, with the intention of shooting back if you or others get shot at, then that’s a “combat role”. US servicement have died in both Iraq and Afghanistan while in exatcly those circumstances, however, with successive administrations – and the mainstream media – being able to ignore those deaths because of a very specific definition of “combat”. The UK now seems intent on deploying that definition in Mali – I wonder what the British people will say if any of these squaddies come back in body bags though.