BRUSSELS, Oct. 31 (UPI) -- The European Union, concerned with al-Qaida terrorists in Mali, says it is considering sending military experts to the country to train its armed forces.
The impoverished African country is now a staging area for terrorist forces aligned with al-Qaida and linked to the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, with drug-runners and human traffickers operating without interference from the law, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.
"The situation is extremely serious. Mali is turning into a terrorist territory like Somalia and Afghanistan," Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said.
The EU plan is to send a mission of 200 trainers to Mali to help the country's armed forces, and to provide technical assistance to improve the military's organization. It is also planning to offer financial, logistical and planning support to an expected force of 3,000 troops from the Economic Community of West African states, and hope the United States will consider involvement after the presidential elections, the newspaper said.
The U.S. State Department and its French counterpart have been seeking a way to equip the local army to drive out the terrorists, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday, adding Mali, in the grip of Islamic extremists in the manner of Afghanistan under Taliban rule, could become the next launching pad for attacks against the United States and its allies.
"The Benghazi event, with the murder of [Ambassador] Chris Stevens, has really precipitated American intervention. It's turned the tables in the region," said Ghislaine Lydon, UCLA history professor and expert on pre-colonial West Africa.