Germany offers support to French Mali mission

BERLIN Mon Jan 14, 2013 1:23pm EST

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany on Monday agreed to support French troops fighting Islamist rebels in Mali although it ruled out sending combat troops to the West African country.

Al Qaeda-linked Islamist rebels launched a counter-offensive in Mali on Monday after four days of French air strikes on their northern strongholds, seizing the central town of Diabaly and promising to drag France into a brutal Afghanistan-style war.

France launched a surprise mission to halt the rebels' push south last Friday, earning promises of logistical support from the United States, Britain and Canada.

Germany, which disappointed allies two years ago in refusing to join an operation against Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, then followed suit.

"Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle offered to work with the French government in exploring how Germany could support the French mission, outside of sending combat troops, through political, logistical, medical and humanitarian means," Germany's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"Germany will not leave France alone in this difficult situation," spokesman Andreas Peschke told reporters.

Westerwelle in a phone call with French counterpart Laurent Fabius also discussed the need to intensify European Union preparations for a mission to Mali to train government troops, the ministry said.

European Union foreign ministers will hold an extraordinary meeting in Brussels this week to discuss the crisis.

The German foreign ministry declined to give details on what kind of support Germany could offer.

It may say more on Wednesday when Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, who holds the rotating chairmanship of the West African bloc ECOWAS, visits for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Paris has pressed ECOWAS to deploy 3,300 African soldiers as quickly as possible in Mali.

Asked if Ouattara would request military transport planes to fly African troops to Mali, German Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere said he had not heard such a request but could look into it.

Germany, which in the wake of its past aggression has sometimes struggled to define its military role, has said since last October that it could support an EU mission to train troops but would not engage in combat.

(Reporting by Alexandra Hudson; editing by Jason Neely)

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