UK to consider boosting French Mali operation support

British C17 cargo aircraft at Mali air force base near Bamako The UK has provided logistical and technical back-up to the French

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The UK government is to discuss offering more help to French forces fighting Islamist rebels in Mali.

Two military aircraft have already been lent and David Cameron has said there could be further assistance with transport and surveillance.

But the Ministry of Defence says there are no plans for a ground combat role.

Following British deaths in an attack on a gas plant in Algeria by Islamist militants, Mr Cameron said north Africa was becoming a "magnet for jihadists".

Foreign Secretary William Hague will answer questions from MPs from 11:30 GMT, and is also expected to give a written ministerial statement on the situation in Mali.

Concerns about the growing influence of al-Qaeda in north Africa have grown following the deployment of French troops to tackle militant groups linked to the network in Mali and the Algerian hostage crisis.

Militants behind the Algeria attack, in which at least 48 foreign hostages died, have called on France to end their intervention in Mali.

'Frustrate terrorists'

Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday, the UK prime minister said: "Together with our partners in the region, we are in the midst of a generational struggle against an ideology which is an extreme distortion of the Islamic faith, and which holds that mass murder and terror are not only acceptable but necessary."

The response of the international community to this threat would top the agenda during the UK's presidency of the G8 group of leading industrialised nations, Mr Cameron said.

"We must frustrate the terrorists with our security. We must beat them militarily. We must address the poisonous narrative they feed on. We must close down the ungoverned space in which they thrive and we must deal with the grievances they use to garner support."

Fighting in Mali map

However, BBC world affairs correspondent Mike Wooldridge said: "Sustaining and giving practical meaning to an ambitious agenda to counter the jihadist threat across a whole swathe of territory straddling north and sub-Saharan Africa will clearly be a huge challenge."

Remarks by Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi condemning the hostage-taking in Algeria, but suggesting military intervention in Mali would inflame conflict in the region, were a "sign of the complexities of building consensus", our correspondent added.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said the West must balance its military, political and humanitarian role, and it should be an Africa-led response to the region's problems.

"There is no perfect policy prescription," he said. "We need to use a whole variety of political, economic instruments as well as, where necessary, the military power that France has deployed - but most importantly, that must come from African countries."

Lessons must be drawn from the decades-long conflict in Somalia, he added, where African forces took the lead in fighting terrorism and the international community focused on providing humanitarian and diplomatic support to create the space for a "legitimate government" to function.

"That has led to a lot of progress in Somalia," Mr Hague said. "What we don't want in countries like Mali is the 20 years of being a failed state that preceded all of that in Somalia."

Two RAF C17 aircraft loaned to the French mission in Mali have been used to transport military equipment and service personnel.

The UK is also sharing intelligence with France as part of "limited" logistical support.

French troops are involved in attacks on Islamic rebels who have gained control of parts of Mali, in support of the country's government until an African force is able to take over.

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