French general urges EU to equip "impoverished" Mali army
By Pascal Fletcher
BAMAKO, Mali (Reuters) - The European Union should complement a mission to train Mali's army, routed by rebels last year, by providing equipment from uniforms to vehicles and communications technology, a French general said on Wednesday.
General Francois Lecointre, appointed to head the EU training mission to Mali (EUTM) that was formally launched this week, said in Bamako equipping the "very impoverished" and disorganized Malian army was as important as training it.
Europe, along with the United States, has backed the French-led military intervention in Mali which since January 11 has driven al Qaeda-allied Islamist insurgents out of the main northern towns into remote mountains near Algeria's border.
European governments have ruled out sending combat troops to join French and African soldiers pursuing the Islamist rebels.
But the EU is providing a 500-strong multinational training force that will give military instruction to Malian soldiers for an initial period of 15 months at an estimated cost of 12.3 million euros ($16.45 million).
While hailing what he called the EU's "courageous, novel, historic" decision to support Mali, Lecointre told a news conference the Malian army's lack of equipment was a problem.
"I know the Malian state is poor, but the Malian army is more than poor," the French general told a news conference, adding that it urgently needed everything from uniforms and weapons to vehicles and communications equipment.
Last year, when Tuareg separatist forces swelled by weapons and fighters from the Libyan conflict swept out of the northern deserts, a demoralized and poorly-led Malian army collapsed and fled before them, abandoning arms and vehicles. Continued...