Britain offers France more military aid for Mali

LONDON Tue Jan 29, 2013 12:44am GMT

A Malian soldier holds an AK-47 in his lap at a military checkpoint in Diabaly January 26, 2013. REUTERS/Joe Penney

A Malian soldier holds an AK-47 in his lap at a military checkpoint in Diabaly January 26, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Joe Penney

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain is offering France further assistance in its military operations against Islamist rebels in Mali, but will not take a combat role, Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman said on Monday.

Cameron spoke to French President Francois Hollande late on Sunday about the conflict in the West African state, where French and Malian government forces are battling Islamist insurgents.

Britain has already provided two C-17 military transport aircraft and a Sentinel surveillance plane to the operation.

"We are keen to continue to provide further assistance where we can and depending on what French requirements there may be," Cameron's spokesman said.

"The position on 'no combat role' is absolutely unchanged."

But Britain's Guardian newspaper quoted a Downing Street official as saying that Britain would be ready to send a "sizeable amount" of troops to Mali.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said she "did not recognise" the comments quoted by the newspaper and would not comment on the numbers of troops.

Britain's national security adviser, Kim Darroch, was in Paris on Monday to assess French military needs, but any British assistance will be restricted to logistics, transport, intelligence and surveillance, Cameron's spokesman said.

Britain is also sending tens of troops to take part in a European Union mission to train Malian forces.

Cameron has highlighted the threat from North Africa and the Sahel in recent weeks, and has spoken of a "generational struggle" to counter militant Islamism in the region.

(Reporting by Mohammed Abbas; additional reporting by Costas Pitas; Editing by Jon Hemming)

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