Niger president visits Mali bound troops
23 January 2013, 10:05
Ouallam - Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou on Tuesday paid a morale-boosting visit to troops preparing for battle in the key Islamist stronghold region of Gao, one of northern Mali's toughest areas of desert terrain.
"Nigerien armed forces in general, and your contingent in particular, have the physical, intellectual and moral capacities needed to overcome the enemy," Issoufou said in a stirring speech to forces currently stationed at Ouallam, around 100km north of Niamey, near Niger's border with Mali.
"This is a war we are going to win," he told them.
Now they have completed a month's special training with French military experts to prepare them for their mission, Niger's 500 troops will join the first soldiers of a 2 000-strong contingent pledged by Chad, whose troops are experienced in dealing with hard desert conditions.
Together they will head overland from Niger to Gao, Mali's army chief General Ibrahima Dahirou Dembele said on Tuesday.
Recapturing Gao is seen as a key step in reclaiming Mali from the rebels.
African soldiers are being hastily assembled to form the International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) to help French and Malian forces fight rebels who have seized more than half of Mali's territory.
Gao - like other key areas in the north - has been subjected to strict shari'ah law by the Islamists.