Paris - France and Germany will send parts of a joint military brigade to Mali in its first deployment to Africa, a statement said on Wednesday.
“France and Germany have decided to send elements of the Franco-German Brigade to Mali: the first deployment under the aegis of the EU and in an African location,” a joint statement said after a security and defence meeting in Paris between the two countries.
It said the troops would integrate into a European mission in Mali to train soldiers. The mission was launched in February last year and has already trained nearly 3 000 Malian forces.
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said on Wednesday that the EU is “preparing to renew” the mandate of the training mission up to 2016.
The Franco-German statement did not specify the number of troops involved. But the two sides called for greater investment in helping re-organise and train troops in the West African nation as well as the police and other security forces.
The Franco-German brigade, which was set up in 1989 to increase military cooperation between the World War 2-era foes, comprises about 4 800 troops based in both countries.
The brigade is highly symbolic in nature as it is difficult for both countries to jointly deploy soldiers to hotspots, given the different rules of engagement that govern each army.
Soldiers from the brigade have nevertheless been sent to Afghanistan and Kosovo in the past.
Mali was thrown into chaos in 2012 when Tuareg separatist rebels launched an offensive in the northern desert helped by Islamist militants linked to al-Qaeda, after the country's president was toppled in a coup.
The Islamists took control of northern Mali, ruling it under a brutal vision of Islamic law until former colonial ruler France sent in troops to flush them out in January 2013. But they are regrouping in the desert and remain an ever-present threat to security.
UN peacekeepers took over security in July last year from the Pan-African AFISMA military mission, which had been supporting the French troops.
France is winding down its deployment from a peak of around 5 000 soldiers but is to keep 1 000 troops in Mali beyond the spring.