BAMAKO, Mali France’s foreign minister said Saturday that “our African friends need to take the lead” in a military intervention to oust extremists from power in northern Mali, though he acknowledged it could be weeks before they are able to do so.
Laurent Fabius spoke to reporters on the sidelines of a closely-watched summit in Ivory Coast focusing on ways that African forces could better help Mali as France’s military intervention there entered its second week.
“Step by step, I think it’s a question from what I heard this morning of some days, some weeks, the African troops will take over,” Fabius said in Abidjan, the commercial capital of Ivory Coast.
Neighboring countries are expected to contribute around 3,000 troops to the operation, which is aimed at preventing the militants who rule northern Mali from advancing further south toward the capital of Bamako.
While some initial contributions from Togo and Nigeria have arrived to help the French, concerns about the mission have delayed other neighbors from sending their promised troops so far.
Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara said Saturday that Mali’s neighbors must work together to eradicate terrorism in the region.
“No other nation in the world, no other region in the world will be spared” if large swaths of the Sahel are allowed to become a ‘no man’s land,”’ he said.
At Saturday’s meeting, leaders were sorting out a central command for the African force, a French official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the sensitive security matters.
Nigerian Gen. Shehu Usman Abdulkadir is expected to be named the force commander.