Malian troops backed by foreign air power will lead the assault to recapture Timbuktu and other northern cities from al-Qaeda-linked militants, under a battle plan now being considered, Malian army sources said yesterday.
The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) is expected to submit the plan to the United Nations Security Council for approval, paving the way for war in Mali’s vast desert amid fears the region could become a terrorist training ground.
“International forces will not do the ground fighting. That role will belong to the Malian army,” said a military source.
“Air strikes will be the responsibility of the international force,” he said, adding foreign partners would also provide logistical and intelligence support and soldiers and police to secure areas captured by the Malian army.
Military planners from Africa, the United Nations and Europe in Mali’s capital Bamako last week drew up a battle plan that would involve a foreign force of more than 4,000 personnel, mostly from West African countries.
It remains unclear how much of the force would come from Western nations. The plan covers a six-month period, with a preparatory phase for training and the establishment of bases in Mali’s south, followed by combat operations in the north.
Mali fell into chaos after a coup in March that toppled the president and left a power vacuum that was quickly exploited by rebels to take over the north.
The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned on Thursday that a military intervention in northern Mali would have a high humanitarian cost.