The Czech Republic is to send troops to Mali as part of a group of European Union military trainers due to be deployed in the West African state, where an offensive against Islamist militants in the north has been taking place. Prime Minister Petr Nečas announced the decision after winning backing from the opposition.
French and Malian forces have recently been pushing back al-Qaeda-linked fighters who have been in control of the vast north of Mali since last year. Prior to that, the poverty stricken country had been regarded as something of a model of African democracy.
Both the United States and France want African troops to take over the task of tackling the militant Islamists in the near future, a move which will be supported by the deployment of around 500 military trainers from European Union states.
The prime minister of the Czech Republic, Petr Nečas, announced on Wednesday that his country’s military would be among those taking part in the mission.
“Up to 50 soldiers from the army of the Czech Republic will take part in the training of mechanized and foot troops of the Malian army, generally of groups the size of one battalion. A condition is that the mission will last for 15 months, as planned by the European Union.”
The opposition Social Democrats had given their backing to the plan prior to the prime minister’s announcement – after demanding a guarantee that no Czech soldiers would be involved in combat operations. Mr. Nečas, who has also been acting defence minister for two months, reassured them this would not be the case.
“I want to emphasis that this is a training mission, not a combat mission, meaning the members of the mission will not take part in battle operations. It is a fact that it is the interest of the entire European Union to stabilize that territory, because a base of various terrorist groups – including al-Qaeda – could be created there. From that perspective, this matter is in the interest of the security of the EU, and the Czech Republic.”
Many of the four dozen or so Czech soldiers will come from a training battalion based in Chrudim, while the remainder will comprise experts from the country’s military police and special units, as well as pyrotechnics specialists. The prime minister said the cost of the operation would reach about CZK 220 million, a figure that would not necessitate a boost in the army’s budget.
The European Union trainers are expected to arrive in the landlocked state in the middle of this month, with the French government planning to begin withdrawing its soldiers in March.