At a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday, European Union foreign ministers agreed to draft plans for a military mission in Mali, where President Amadou Toumani Toure was toppled in a coup in March.
After two-thirds of the country fell into the hands of Tuareg rebels and Islamists linked to al-Qaida, fears that northern Mali could descend into an extremist stronghold and become a failed state have been gaining traction. Earlier this month, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Mali "a powder keg that the international community cannot afford to ignore."
"We cannot allow terrorism to take root in an area beyond all lawful control in northern Mali," said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who stressed that the mission would not take the form of boots on the ground. "African leadership is key," he said. "The point is not that we deploy combat troops."
Although Westerwelle was unwilling to divulge details in Luxembourg, Germany looks set to be among the nations helping train local forces in an operation similar to the European Training Mission Somalia. Launched in 2010, the EU military mission contributing to the training of Somali security forces includes 20 German soldiers.
'In Our Interest'
It will take the same approach in Mali, where the focus will be on humanitarian and logistical aid as well as help in planning. According to an EU statement issued Monday, the mission would include "the organization and training of the Malian defense forces, taking into account the conditions needed to efficiently fulfill a possible mission, including the full support of the Malian authorities."
"It is in our interest to help stabilize Mali," said Westerwelle. "We have to avoid at an early stage the development of a second Somalia, without any rule of law," he stressed. "Because then there are going to be founded further terrorist schools that will endanger our situation here in Europe too."
Catherine Ashton, EU chief of foreign affairs, echoed the sentiment. "We believe there is a real risk for the region if Mali remains an ungoverned space, free for terrorists and drug traffickers to operate," she said.
The EU move comes on the heels of the United Nations Security Council giving the UN and African regional groups a 45-day deadline to present a specific plan for military intervention in Mali to help government troops reclaim the north of the country.
The Council on Friday unanimously passed a French-drafted resolution to try to revive stalled attempts to deal with the crisis, warning that it could destabilize the Sahel, a belt of land with nearly a dozen of the world's poorest countries on the southern rim of the Sahara.