French troops boarding transport to Mali
On Saturday it was reported that David Cameron had offered to send aircraft to Mali to assist the French fight against the rebels. His offer involved the transportation of foreign troops and equipment, but Downing Street said British troops would not join the French military mission to help recapture the north of Mali from al-Qaida linked rebels acting against the country's government.
Yesterday David Cameron ordered 330 troops to the troubled West African state on the pretext 'training purposes' and the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond confirmed there was 'no intention' of UK units being involved in combat.
From 2 aircraft to 2 aircraft and 300 soldiers shows the difference two days make in politics.
Some military and other commentators suspect that UK forces could be sucked deeper into another open-ended conflict in a Muslim country. I suspect that too.
The latest deployment comes as Westminster continues withdrawing troops from Afghanistan - a war which has left 440 British servicemen and women dead and thousands more wounded in 12 years of fighting. Although the MoD insist they are reducing the number of troops, they continue to send troops to Afghanistan.
Mr Hammond told the Commons: 'We are very clear about the risks of mission creep and we have defined very carefully the support that we are willing to provide to the French and Mailian authorities.' Perhaps he's unaware that the American catastrophe in Vietnam started off with a deployment of troops in a training capacity.
Why is Britain always the first to offer our troops to help others? Mali's neighbours Burkina Faso and Niger have offered 500 troops each and Senegal and Nigeria have also agreed to send soldiers but no numbers have been announced.
Mali is unfortunate insofar as it has no clear leader at the head of the country and its military simply gave up when the rebels arrived. Who are our troops going to train if all the troops are in retreat hundreds of miles to the south?
The rebels hace occupied Mali's northern half, an area larger than Afghanistan, amid the chaos after a coup in Mali's capital last March. They have used their nine-month siege of the north to dig in, create elaborate defences, including tunnels and ramparts using construction equipment abandoned by felling construction crews.
I foresee Mali as another Afghanistan, do you?