Jan 13 2013
A British plane has been loaded with military equipment in France as Britain supported French efforts to halt an advance by rebels in Mali.
The C-17 was the first of two planes expected to help transport foreign troops and equipment to the west African country where insurgents affiliated with al Qaida have been pushing south from their northern base against the Malian government.
Downing Street has stressed no UK troops will engage in combat operations in Mali, but the transport planes will provide logistical assistance.
Prime Minister David Cameron and French president Francois Hollande have agreed that the situation in Mali poses a real threat to international security given terrorist activity there.
Ministry of Defence sources said the C-17 had flown on Saturday from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire and was being loaded with military equipment at a French base before taking off for Mali.
Hundreds of French troops were deployed on Saturday after state forces lost control of the strategically important town of Konna to Islamists on Thursday. The rebels seized a swathe of northern Mali last spring.
President Hollande also sent French commandos into Somalia in a failed attempt to rescue hostage Denis Allex, who was kidnapped in July 2009. Two soldiers and Mr Allex are believed to have died in the bid. Paris insists the two operations are entirely separate. The country's terrorist threat level has been raised over fears of reprisals from extremists.
Mr Cameron has expressed "deep concern" about the rebel advances, saying: "I welcome the military assistance France has provided to the Malian government, at their request, to halt this advance.
"These developments show the need to make urgent progress in implementing UN Security Council resolutions on Mali, and ensure that military intervention is reinforced by an inclusive political process leading to elections and a return to full civilian rule."
Minister for Africa Mark Simmonds indicated that British personnel could play a role in training the Malian army in addition to the logistical support already announced. He said: "We may well, through a European Union mechanism, provide training and support for the Malian army to give them strength to bring back the integrity of the Malian country in totality. It's absolutely essential, as part of our obligations as a permanent member of the Security Council that we provide assistance when we are requested."