France has granted its allies in the Sahel region a new batch of weapons ahead of a possible deployment of African troops in the Azawad region in northern Mali. A senior security source said that the countdown to a military intervention in northern Mali has begun, the exact date of which will be determined by France.
Security sources said that French and Western military commanders have devised a plan for military intervention [in Mali] and the deployment of an African force in northern Mali. According to the plan, residential areas and major cities in the Azawad region would be taken control of, and the armed groups would be expelled from cities and later [militarily] exhausted.
The first batch of French military equipment, which arrived from Senegal in scores of trailer trucks, was transported through the city of Dori in northern Burkina Faso along the border with Niger. The shipment of weapons was transferred from a French military base in Senegal, and included light weapons, armored vehicles, communications devices and field guns.
A source informed about anti-terrorism efforts in the Sahel region said that, given the large number of trucks that have crossed the border, the value of the French military aid must exceed 80 million Euros [$103 million].
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had pledged to grant emergency military aid to Niger until he is able to convince France's European allies — especially Germany — to provide further military and security assistance.
Spain and Italy intend to supply both the African intervention force and the Malian army with equipment and four-wheel-drive vehicles.
Our source revealed that the convoy of trucks that has crossed the border is carrying equipment for the French Army Corps of Engineers, which is conducting a technical study for establishing a French military base in northern or central Mali immediately after the African force assumes control of the region.
This is the second batch of military aid that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has obtained in recent weeks.
The African force would have to control a region with an area larger than France, making it virtually impossible to address the security threats posed by terrorists and armed groups in the desert.
For a number of days, a special French force has been taking part in military exercises with soldiers from the Mauritanian and Nigerien armies in an area near the Niger-Mali border. According to an informed source, a special French force consisting of some 200 soldiers and officers and equipped with light vehicles and advanced devices, has started conducting field combat exercises.
Furthermore, an informed source revealed that special French forces, which had come from an African country believed to be Senegal or Chad, have taken part in combat exercises with units of the Mauritanian and Nigerien armies since March 8.
The exercises included chasing an armed group in the desert over a long distance and encircling it, storming a fortified site in the desert, handling fugitive militants who had attacked a military garrison and monitoring a wide area of the desert.
Our sources confirmed that the exercises currently underway are part of a previous military cooperation agreement between ECOWAS governments and France, which aims to prepare and help the French forces adapt to the conditions of fighting gangs in the desert.
Also, the military exercises confirm that Western countries are preparing to intervene in the Azawad region. Our sources ruled out the possibility that the French forces would set up base in Mauritania.