African leaders met Saturday in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire to approve a regional African mission for replacing France’s week-long mission to stop the Al Qaeda-rebel expansion of their grip on northern Mali to the south. Present too was French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. French troops are still arriving in Mali.
The Algerian hostage crisis forced the African governments to bring forward their pledge to send 5,000 troops to Mali. So far only Nigeria and Togo have started their deployment.
International security experts warn that after Islamists overcame a tough Algerian security force at a major gas field, West African nations with ill-equipped and inexperienced troops feel more vulnerable than ever to expanding international hardly up to taking over the Mali mission from France. Senegal and Nigeria fear they will follow Mauritanian and Niger as hosts for al Qaeda cells.
Algerian security sources report that the gas field hostage siege, which targeted foreign workers from ten nations, was carried out by a multinational group that included Algerians, Egyptians, Tunisians, Libyans, a Frenchman and a Malian. Al Qaeda in North Africa (AQIM) threatens fresh strikes against regional powers and Western interests.