US to train African troops for Mali in Niger
16 May 2013, 18:22
Niamey - US military instructors in Niger will train African
forces participating in a UN-backed offensive against al-Qaeda-linked Islamist
militants in neighbouring Mali, senior military officers said on Thursday.
The United States and several European nations have backed a
French-led military intervention which since January 11 has driven militant
insurgents out of the towns of northern Mali. Pockets of Islamist resistance
remain in Mali's desert north.
The US military did not participate in the ground offensive
but aided the operation by transporting troops and providing intelligence
information from drones based in Niger.
A senior Niger military officer said up to 30 US military
instructors would train African forces between June and August at Ouallam, in
the Tillaberi region near the Malian border.
"Some US military instructors will train AFISMA troops
on Nigerien soil from June 25 to August 3," the officer, asking not to be
"The training will help strengthen the operational
capabilities of the coalition forces against terrorism in northern Mali."
US authorities in Niger were not available to comment.
The United States has deployed about 100 military personnel
and drones in Niger.
Niger troops going to relieve the contingent currently
stationed in Mali will be the first to receive training.
The US military has run training programmes for Niger's army
for years under a counter-terrorism programme in the Sahel.
Niger is among the West African countries which contributed
troops to the regional AFISMA force battling Islamists in Mali alongside a
4,000-strong French contingent.
AFISMA is expected to be folded into a UN-sanctioned
peacekeeping force of about 12 600 troops known as MINUSMA and will be supported
by a rapid reaction unit of 1 000 French troops if needed to combat the
Islamist threat in Mali.
International donors meeting in Brussels on Wednesday
to help Mali rebuild after the conflict.
The European Union has also provided a 500-strong training
team in Mali for an initial period of 15 months.