Britain is to send over 300 military personnel to Mali and the surrounding region despite MPs of all parties warning that it risks getting sucked into the escalating conflict.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond told MPs today that up to 200 personnel could be involved in "training" west African forces with up to 40 performing a similar task with the Malian army.
Mr Hammond told the Commons the deployment of a C-17 transport aircraft would be extended for three months, supported by around 20 personnel.
A Sentinel R1 surveillance plane with 70 support crew has also been deployed to Dakar in Senegal, he added.
The Defence Secretary said contributions to the European Union training mission in Mali were being discussed in Brussels but that Britain was prepared to send up to 40 personnel "either in an HQ or training team role."
And a further 200 personnel would be available to the African-led Afisma intervention force to train troops from countries in "Anglophone" west Africa.
A "small number" of advisers had been sent to west African countries to assess their needs.
His comments came in response to an urgent parliamentary question from fellow Tory John Baron, forcing Mr Hammond to appear in the Commons.
Mr Baron said he opposed previous military interventions because "one can be drawn into ever-deepening conflicts."
Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said there were "worries about mission creep."
He told the Commons: "The UK commitment to Mali has grown from lending the French two transport aircraft to the deployment of perhaps hundreds of troops to the region."
The Defence Secretary said: "It is not our intention to deploy combat troops.
"We are very clear about the risks of mission creep and we have defined very carefully the support that we are willing to provide to the French and the Malian authorities."
Mr Baron (Basildon and Billericay) said: "The government has said that it is not going to be placed in a combat role, but there are a host of grey areas between combat roles and support roles."
He demanded to know what the government's exit strategy for the deployment was.
"It is very easy to get drawn into these things but not always clear what the end game is and what the exit strategy is."
And Labour MP Frank Dobson pointed out that the US's disastrous war in Vietnam had begun in an "advisory capacity."
Opposition backbencher Jeremy Corbyn said that Mali was in a "post-colonial situation" and the exploitation of the country's mineral reserves and the treatment of the Tuareg people had led to the current conflict.
He warned that the government risked getting sucked into a horrible war which would likely end in a humiliating retreat.
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