BRUSSELS (AP) — The general leading the European Union training mission to Mali said Tuesday that molding the country's army into a cohesive and effective force will entail "a huge amount of work."
A small team of advisers from the EU has been evaluating the Malian army since February 18. And its needs, said Brig. Gen. Francois Lecointre, the mission commander, are "considerable."
"It is the army of a very poor country," Lecointre told reporters. "And the army is very much underequipped and underendowed in budgetary terms."
Now that it is seeing combat, as French and African troops work to wrest control of northern Mali from radical Islamists and other rebel groups, it has come "face-to-face with its shortcomings," Lecointre said. Among them, he said, are a shortage of basic equipment, such as arms, vehicles and radios, and a poor ability to plan and execute military campaigns.
Officials said the commitment of EU member countries to the training mission remained strong despite fierce fighting in the north of the country, where three French soldiers have been killed since the French operation began in January.
Peteris Ustubs, the EU's top diplomat for West and Central Africa, said he had seen no sign of EU members pulling back on their commitments to send personnel to Mali. And Lecointre said the trainers would be "well back from the front lines" and would not see combat, though a terrorist attack would be conceivable.
The goal of the mission is to train four battalions — half of the Malian army — so the army can keep the country secure. A battalion can include anywhere from 300 to 1,000 soldiers.