Franco-German joint military brigade heads to Mali
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Troops from a joint Franco-German military brigade will be sent to Mali, the force's first deployment to Africa, a statement said on Wednesday.
"France and Germany have decided to send elements of the Franco-German Brigade to Mali: the first deployment under the aegis of the EU and in an African location," a joint statement said following a security and defence meeting in Paris between the two countries.
It said the troops would be integrated into a European soldier-training mission in Mali that was launched in February last year and which has already trained nearly 3,000 Malian forces.
The statement did not specify how many troops would be involved. But the two sides called for greater investment in helping reorganise and train troops in the West African nation, as well as in the police and other security forces.
The Franco-German brigade, which was set up in 1989 to increase military cooperation between the World War II-era foes, comprises some 4,800 troops based in both countries. Its soldiers have in the past been sent to Afghanistan and Kosovo.
The brigade is highly symbolic in nature, as it is difficult for both countries to deploy soldiers to hotspots jointly, given the different rules of engagement that govern each army.
Mali was thrown into chaos in 2012 when Tuareg separatist rebels launched an offensive in the northern desert helped by Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda after the country's president was toppled in a coup.
The Islamists took control of northern Mali, ruling it under a brutal vision of Islamic law until former colonial ruler France sent in troops to flush them out in January 2013. But the rebels are regrouping in the desert and remain an ever-present threat to security.
UN peacekeepers took over security in July last year from the Pan-African AFISMA military mission, which had been supporting the French troops.
France is winding down its deployment from a peak of around 5,000 soldiers but will keep 1,000 troops in Mali beyond the northern spring.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)