DAKAR — Mali does not want African troops to be deployed into combat against Islamic extremists occupying its north, but seeks logistical support from its neighbours, according to a letter seen by AFP on Thursday.
The letter from interim president Dioncounda Traore to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), dated September 1, requests "help from ECOWAS to recover occupied territories in the north and the fight against terrorism."
"However the deployment of a constituted police unit or combatant military troops is not applicable," read the three page letter.
On Tuesday night France's special representative for the Sahel region Jean Felix-Paganon announced that Traore had formally requested "a military contribution to stabilise the country and especially reconquer the north."
It was understood that Mali would be taking advantage of 3,300 standby troops made available by the regional bloc in April to help it win back its north which has been occupied by Islamic extremists for over five months.
A joint statement from Ivorian leader Alassane Ouattara, who is the current holder of the ECOWAS rotating presidency, and interim Ghanaian leader John Dramani Mahama hailed the request from Mali's authorities.
"They expressed their appreciation of the request by Malian authorities addressed to ECOWAS for the sending of a west African force to the north of Mali," read the statement issued after a meeting between the two leaders.
However the letter addressed to Ouattara foresees more of a support role for the West African troops.
Traore requested assistance in "the reorganisation of armed forces and security" in terms of training, equipment and logistical support.
For the restoration of Mali's territorial integrity he requests "aerial support (intelligence support, direct support of engaged troops, destruction of hidden logistical bases) and the deployment of five battalions to the frontline to be gradually used to control the reconquered towns."
The country was considered one of the region's stable democracies until a March 22 coup plunged it into turmoil.
Taking advantage of the chaos Islamic extremists allied to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb seized key towns in the vast desert north, an area larger than France or Texas.
They have since taken firm control, imposing strict sharia law as interim authorities in Bamako and west African mediators grapple with ways to stem the crisis.
Bamako has been hesitant to accept the offer of military intervention -- an action which has not been clearly defined and still awaits a mandate from the United Nations -- and insistent that its own army will take the lead.
"It will first be Malian troops who are present. No one will fight this war in the place of Mali, but others will come as support, especially in aviation and logistics," army chief Colonel-Major Ibrahima Dembele said on August 14.
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