PARIS – A top EU military chief says Europe could mobilize "very quickly" to help Mali's government and its West African allies recapture north Mali from al Qaida-linked rebels.
The possible timetable, composition and mission of any European Union support for Mali will be discussed Nov. 19 by EU foreign ministers.
Many Western powers fear the Sahara desert nation could become a base for radical Islamic fighters to train, impose hardline Islamic law and plot terror attacks in the region or even in possibly Europe. Those powers have pledged logistical support for Mali and its neighbors but say any invasion needs to be led by African troops.
French Gen. Patrick de Rousiers said Thursday that once the political will is there, any EU support could take shape rapidly, possibly within days.
"For all this part — which could go very quickly — it could take two days, three days, as it could take six months," he told reporters at the French Defense Ministry, citing precedents in previous EU military missions in Georgia and off the coast of Somalia.
Stephen O'Brien, Britain's special representative to the Sahel region of sub-Saharan Africa — which includes Mali — said nations will take until December to work out what help to provide. A planned African-led military offensive to reclaim northern Mali is unlikely to begin before next year, he said Tuesday.
German officials, including Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, have laid out concerns that northern Mali might become a safe haven for terrorists. French President Francois Hollande has been among those calling for quick military action led by Africans — but with French logistical support and training for African forces.
The United States is also expressing increased urgency about the situation in Mali.
"We've seen recently that the situation has worsened and we must do something to resolve this challenge," Michael Pelletier, a U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state, said in a conference call with reporters Thursday.
"It's very important that this effort is well-organized, well-resourced and well-planned — and of course, Africans are going to be the leaders of this effort," with the help of "friends of Mali like France and the United States," he said.
Under a U.N. Security Council resolution, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has until next month to help Mali develop a plan to recover the territory.