Nigerian troops are going to be actively involved in restoring peace in northern Mali, but the planning of such an international force including aerial support from a western country, is still on the drawing board, according to Foreign Affairs Minister, Olugbenga Ashiru.
The Minister who spoke in New York over the weekend at the signing of performance contracts with heads of Nigerian diplomatic posts in the US dismissed claims that the planning of the international force is being stalled by the Nigerian army.
Ashiru explained that by yesterday the military chiefs of ECOWAS are expected to finalize the plans and then take it back to ECOWAS leaders, before it is sent to the United Nations for the input of the Security Council and the Secretariat.
Indeed ECOWAS leaders met yesterday in Abuja to consider the plans for a regional force to oust the terrorists and islamic fundamentalists holding down northern Mali.
According to Ashiru, however, "The Malian military have asked to be in the forefront of the military force with Nigerian backing," addressing a report in the western media that problems with the Nigerian Army is stalling plans to deploy the regional force.
Recalling several of Nigeria's successful intervention in the West African region, Ashiru noted that Nigeria is not going to be alone in the military force to deal with the Malian situation, but the country will form an important part of a "regional force."
He added that talks are also going on to solicit the support of Germany to provide air support for the military force being put together for the Malian assignment.
Air power has always been one of the most difficult challenges normally faced by African-led international forces and while western nations are always calling for Africans to supply the troops, it has often been the case that such nations are reluctant to provide aerial support, required by such international forces.