African Leaders Focus on Bolstering Mali Force at Summit

African leaders hold a two-day meeting starting Jan. 27 to discuss how to make sure their armies have enough resources to sustain a campaign against insurgents who control about two-thirds of Mali.

The proposed force of 3,300 troops will cost at least $300 million a year, The African Union Commission’s Peace and Security Director El-Ghassim Wane told reporters yesterday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, where the meeting is being held

The African forces are deploying in Mali to back French troops who intervened on Jan. 11 to help the government halt an advance by Islamist militants and ethnic Touareg separatists and restore control over rebel-held areas.

“One of our main objectives now is really to make sure Africa and our partners provide the resources that are required to sustain the force,” Wane said. “I really think that’s the key objective of this summit.”

The intervention of Mali’s former colonial power came after the United Nations Security Council resolution on Dec. 20 authorized an African-led force called for by West Africa’s regional bloc and the AU. Togo, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Senegal, Benin and Ghana have pledged to contribute troops. Forces started arriving in Bamako, Mali’s capital, this month.

The French Defense Ministry said today that 2,500 of its soldiers are in the landlocked West African country, which gained independence from France in 1960.

A donors’ conference to raise funds for the African force and the Malian army will be held on Jan. 29 in Addis Ababa after the African heads of state meeting.

Chinese Support

China, which paid for and built the African Union $200 million headquarters in Addis Ababa that was opened last year, is expected to contribute funds to the African force, Wane said. “I’m sure we can count on their support and contribution.”

The European Union funds the African Peace Facility that is used for peacekeeping operations, he said. The EU gave 300 million Euros ($404 million) for the fund for 2011 to 2013, according to its website.

Chad, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and South Africa have also said they will participate in the mission, Nigerian Foreign Minister Olugbenga Ashiru said in an interview yesterday. France will offer “technical support and intelligence,” he said.

‘Long Campaign’

“It will be a long campaign because we know they are going to run to the hills and the desert and hide there,” Ashiru said. “But we will follow them there until we destroy all their capabilities.”

While African leaders have backed the French intervention, it upset planning for the African force, which was scheduled to be deployed in September, said Solomon Dersso, an analyst with the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies. Lacking training, funding and equipment, African armies may not be prepared for the difficult desert terrain, he said in a Jan. 22 interview in Addis Ababa.

“We don’t need to rush the replacement of French troops with African forces,” he said. “There is definitely a danger of premature deployment.”

Mali is one of the continent’s poorest nations, with the crisis leading to an economic contraction of 4.5 percent last year, according to the International Monetary Fund. AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. and Randgold Resources Ltd. are among mining companies with operations in the landlocked country, which vies with Tanzania as Africa’s third-biggest gold producer.

The U.S. has transported French troops and “will have to assist with intelligence and logistics for an operation whose timing was most inopportune and whose success is likely to be limited,” J. Peter Pham, director of the Atlantic Council’s Michael S. Ansari Africa Center, said in a Jan. 23 e-mailed response to questions.

The African force will focus on ensuring that military gains against the rebels are consolidated, Wane said.

“Even if you restore state authority you still have a lot of work to do in terms of stabilization,” he said.

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