FOREIGN Secretary William Hague yesterday left the door open to British combat troops being deployed in Mali.
Ministers last week insisted the Government was acutely aware of the risk of mission creep as it provides assistance to French forces involved in attempts to drive Islamist militants from the region, but insisted there were no plans to put British boots on the ground.
Mr Hague said that remained the Government’s intention but sidestepped calls to guarantee that UK troops would not be sucked into the conflict at a later date.
He told BBC 1’s Sunday Politics: “There are no combat troops at all in this deployment and there are no plans to send combat troops.”
Asked if he could give a commitment that there would never be any combat troops involved, he replied: “You can’t foresee every situation but I can absolutely say we have no plans or current intention to do that.”
Mr Hague also warned the risks from unstable regions meant the world was a more dangerous place than in recent times.
Asked if the world faced more danger than it had during the previous two decades, Mr Hague said: “Yes, I do think so. It is less stable.”
The Government is sending 200 UK military advisers to help train a West African intervention force and Britain has offered 40 personnel to a European Union) training mission to build up the fledgling Malian army. France’s Defence Ministry has said the country’s military forces continued aerial strikes in northern Mali, just a few hours after a visit to the country by President Francois Hollande.
French troops bombarded Islamist sites in Kidal and Tessalit in northern Mali over the weekend, according to a defence official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to be quoted by the media.
The official said the strikes were targeting logistical arms and fuel depots near the Algerian border.He could not confirm that the latest attacks also targeted armed Islamist training camps.
Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Tony Blair said the West’s fight against al-Qaida was like the battle against revolutionary communism and he warned it could last for a generation.
He said Britain was right to support the French effort in Mali to put down a terrorist attempt to overthrow the country’s government.
Prime Minister David Cameron faced difficult decisions to fight terrorism, Mr Blair said, but warned the cost of standing aside would be far greater.
Britain at least had to try and “shape” events in the Middle East, he added, telling the BBC’s Andrew Marr show that in Syria there was already a danger the more extreme elements of the opposition forces fighting president Bashar Assad’s regime would take over.
Mr Blair said: “I think we should acknowledge how difficult these decisions are.
“Sometimes in politics you come across a decision which the choice is very binary, you go this way or that way and whichever way you go the choice is very messy.
“If we engage with this, not just military but over a long period of time, in trying to help these countries, it is going to be very, very hard but I think personally the choice of disengaging is going to be even greater.”
He added: “We always want in the West, quite naturally, to go in and go out, and think there is a clean result.
“It’s not going to happen like that. We now know that. It is going to be long and difficult and messy.”
Mr Blair added: “My point is very simple though: if you don’t intervene and let it happen, it is also going to be long, difficult and messy, and possibly a lot worse. It’s a very difficult decision.”