Cameron puts British forces on alert for Mali deployment
It had better be short and sweet and not another Afghanistan says military source as new cuts begin
ALL sections of the British military have been put on alert for an "emergency deployment" to Mali to support French forces who are battling al-Qaeda forces in the northern African nation, The Times says.
The paper says the Army, the Royal Navy and the RAF are on "high readiness" to deploy to Mali if they are required. In addition, military chiefs have been given until the end of the week to draft "contingency plans" for an operation in Mali which has been codenamed Operation Newcombe. The Times says such an operation would "include greater training and support for African forces".
The raised status of UK forces follows David Cameron's address to the Commons yesterday in which he said Britain was engaged in a "generational struggle" against al-Qaeda fighters like the group that attacked the BP gas plant in Algeria.
The PM "sketched out" a greater engagement with northern Africa, prompting suggestions of a shift in his foreign policy to "a much more interventionist stance", says the Daily Telegraph.
The paper says the "most striking" part of Cameron's speech was the fact he rejected the idea of "containing" the al-Qaeda threat and argued that the UK's ultimate aim was to "completely overcome them".
The move to put Britain's armed forces on alert for a possible deployment to Mali comes at a difficult time. The Army is preparing to make up to 5,000 soldiers redundant today in what is its third round of cost-cutting in recent times, despite already being stretched by Afghanistan campaign.
BBC correspondent Jonathan Beale says the push to "plug" a £38 billion hole in the defence budget will continue with a fourth round of redundancies later this year.
The Army is not the only service being pared back. The Navy and RAF both have to find 5,000 redundancies while 25,000 civilian employees working at the Ministry of Defence also face the chop.
A military source told the Times that the Army has "no money", is suffering from "very poor morale" and is still in the process of disengaging from Afghanistan. If Britain is considering a deployment to Mali, the source said, it needs to be extremely confident it will turn out like "another Sierra Leone" – the short, successful campaign that freed British soldiers taken hostage by African militia in 2000 – and not another Afghanistan.