BRITAIN is to send 350 troops to Mali to be deployed as ‘advisers’ and ‘trainers’, Defence Secretary Hammond told an anxious House of Commons in an Emergency Statement yesterday.
Tory MP John Barron, who raised the ‘Urgent Question’, said that he opposed intervention and warned of ‘a host of grey areas,’ asking: ‘what is the exit strategy? . . what if things go wrong? . . . what are the contingency plans when and if things don’t go well?’
Barron warned of ‘mission creep’ and ‘a real danger of being drawn into a much larger deployment’.
Hammond replied: ‘The UK has a clear interest in the stability of Mali. It cannot be allowed to devolve into an ungovernable state.
‘We see our involvement here as a continuation of our military co-operation with France which has developed from joint action in Libya.’
He went on to claim: ‘The British role is not a combat role and will not extend to forced protection role.
‘It is not our intention to deploy combat troops, we have defined very clearly the levels of support we are willing to provide.’
Labour shadow defence secretary Murphy said that there is ‘already mission creep – from the deployment of two aircraft to several hundred troops’, adding that the public ‘are wary and weary after Iraq and Afghanistan’ and are saying ‘Oh no, not again’.
Tory MP Peter Tapsell warned that the intervention is likely to contribute to the ‘spread of Jihadism’ and will increase the ‘terror threat in the UK’.
Labour MP Bob Ainsworth asked: ‘How long and how many?’
Frank Dobson MP said: ‘Will the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister bear in mind, whatever the merits of what’s presently proposed, that the American catastrophe in Vietnam started off with the deployment of American troops in a training and advisory capacity.’
Dennis Skinner said: ‘When the intervention took place in Libya, at a very low level we were told by the government at the beginning, the truth is that when those Benghazi rebels were provided with large numbers of weapons, we found that Al-Qaeda and other terrorists in Mali and north Africa were using the same weapons that Britain and other countries had supplied, and that is mission creep and if it’s not careful it will get even worse.’
Meanwhile, Britains living in Somalia have been urged to get out now.
The Foreign Office said there was a ‘specific threat’ identified to Westerners in the territory and they should depart immediately.
Last week, a similar threat was issued for Britons living in the Libyan city of Benghazi after the Foreign Office became aware of a ‘specific and imminent threat’.
On Tuesday travel warnings were further extended throughout North Africa and the Middle East with the Foreign Office releasing this statement: ‘We advise against all travel to the city of Tripoli and Palestinian refugee camps and against all but essential travel to the Bekaa valley, to within 5km of the Syrian border, to the southern city of Saida, and to areas south of the Litani river.’
North Africa and the Middle East is becoming a no-go zone for UK nationals.