France and UK return to Africa ‘to stay until the end’

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Britain and France pledge to root out militants in Africa, using rhetoric that evokes the colonial past of two countries, following crises in Mali and Algeria

A French soldier wearing a skeleton mask stands next to a tank in a street in Niono. France calls for total reconquest of Mali from the Islamist rebels. AFP Photo

Britain and France have sharpened their political stance on the continent of Africa following the military operation in Mali and deadly hostage crisis in Algeria, with the British premier warning that the fight against terrorism in North Africa could go on for decades and the French defense minister saying the aim in Mali is a “total re-conquest.”

Prime Minister David Cameron warned Jan. 20 that Britain and the West face a decades-long battle against Islamist terrorism in North Africa. “What we face is an extremist, Islamist, al Qaeda-linked terrorist group. It wants to destroy our way of life, it believes in killing as many people as it can. Just as we had to deal with that in Pakistan and in Afghanistan, so the world needs to come together to deal with this threat in North Africa,” he said in a statement after speaking with his Algerian counterpart, Abdelmalek Sellal, daily Guardian reported.

“This is a global threat and it will require a global response. It will require a response that is about years, even decades, rather than months,” he said. “It requires a response that is patient and painstaking, that is tough but also intelligent, but above all has an absolutely iron resolve and that is what we will deliver over these coming years.”

G-8 support

Cameron also vowed to use Britain’s chairmanship of the G-8 group of leading nations to shape the international response, according to the Daily Mail. Despite his pledge, Cameron said Britain would not take any combat roles in Mali and played down the prospect of military intervention in the wider region.

Meanwhile, Algeria announced a new death toll yesterday from the four-day siege, saying that 37 foreign hostages and 29 militants were killed. At least one Canadian was among the al-Qaeda-linked militants that attacked the remote plant in the Sahara desert and kidnapped scores of workers, Prime Minister Sellal said, according to The Associated Press.

Elsewhere in the region, French troops consolidated gains in Mali’s Islamist-held north. “The goal is the total re-conquest of Mali,” French Defense Minister Le Drian said in televised remarks, adding that they would not leave any pockets of resistance. Le Drian’s comments echoed a similar statement by President François Hollande, who said French troops would remain in the region for as long as would be necessary to defeat terrorism.

The statement from Le Drian came as French and Malian armored columns rolled into the central Mali town of Diabaly after Islamist militants who seized it a week ago melted into the bush to avoid air strikes. Diabaly, 350 kilometers north of Mali’s capital of Bamako, had harbored the main cluster of insurgents south of the frontline towns of Mopti and Sevare. The French commander in the region warned of the risk of mines and booby traps in the insurgents’ wake.

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