West Africa plots expanded military force in north Mali

Islamists on defensive

ABUJA- Talks among West African nations on a strategy to retake Mali's Islamist-held north have included plans for an expanded mission of 5,500 troops, including those from outside the region, a source familiar with the talks said Friday.
Representatives from South Africa, Mauritania, Morocco, Libya, Algeria and Chad would also be invited to participate in a regional summit on the military strategy set for Sunday in the Nigerian capital Abuja, the source said.
The number of troops would be a substantial increase from the just over 3,000 originally proposed by the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
The source spoke as a meeting of ECOWAS foreign and defence ministers was under way in Abuja. Defence chiefs from the region were also attending.
"ECOWAS defence chiefs have proposed a change in the composition of the troops to be deployed," the source from the bloc said.
"They are recommending to the summit 5,500 troops as against the initial proposition of 3,200 by ECOWAS. The difference is expected to be contributed by non-ECOWAS states which have signified interest to contribute troops."
He added that "South Africa, Mauritania, Morocco, Libya, Algeria and Chad are being invited to participate at the summit level on Sunday."
The military plan would eventually be sent for approval at the UN Security Council, which on October 12 set a 45-day timeframe for a blueprint. It would be delivered through the African Union's Peace and Security Council.
Mali, once one of the region's most stable democracies, rapidly imploded after a coup in March allowed Tuareg desert nomads, who had relaunched a decades-old rebellion for independence, to seize the main towns in the north with the help of Islamist allies.
The secular separatists were quickly sidelined by the Islamists, who had little interest in their aspirations for an independent homeland and set about implementing their version of strict Islamic law.