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ABUJA (AFP) – Nigeria will Wednesday begin withdrawal of some of its troops from Mali because they are needed back home, where the country is battling a deadly Islamist insurgency, officials said Tuesday.
It was not clear how many troops would be pulled from the west African nation, where Nigeria currently has some 1,000 troops, spokesman of the defence headquarters, Brigadier General Chris Olukolade said in a statement.
"The defence headquarters will tomorrow (Wednesday) commence the withdrawal of some Nigerian troops from the Peace Support Operations in Mali," it said.
"The troops are mainly those not accommodated in the structures of the newly formed United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). They are to join the ongoing internal security operations in the country."
The action followed "the rehatting and takeover" by the UN of the mission from African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA)," it stated.
"Some of the soldiers will be redeployed immediately," it added.
Nigeria will sustain its commitment and contribution to the Mali operation in other forms, such as input of "sizeable men and materials" to the mission, it said, without giving further details.
Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, chair of the 15-nation west African bloc ECOWAS, told reporters earlier this month that the withdrawal was because Nigeria needed its soldiers back home.
"It's because of the domestic situation," Ouattara said after an ECOWAS summit in the Nigerian capital Abuja.
However, a military source had said troops would pull out because the country, which has the biggest military in west Africa, felt "shabbily treated" under the new UN force in Mali.
A Nigerian commanded the previous African-led force in the country, but the UN mission is being headed by a Rwandan.
The UN mission integrates more than 6,000 west African soldiers into its ranks and is charged with ensuring security during and after July 28 elections in Mali.
It is to grow to 11,200 troops, plus 1,400 police, by the end of the year.
Nigeria approved the deployment of 900 troops with the capacity to increase to 1,200 under the previous African-led force.
Nigeria's military has been stretched thin back home.
Bomb blasts late Monday ripped through a mainly Christian area of Kano, the largest city in the north, killing 24 people, an official said, and shattering a recent lull in insurgent attacks there.
The military blamed the attack on suspected members of Islamist extremist group Boko Haram.
Violence linked to an insurgency by the Islamist extremist group, mainly in Nigeria's north, has left some 3,600 people dead since 2009, including killings by the security forces.