The Prime Minister's Spokesperson (PMS) answered questions on terrorism and counter-terrorism in the Sahel.
The PMS reiterated the government’s commitment to the principle of an EU training mission in Mali. The PMS confirmed that operational planning of that mission is now underway, with an approximately 250 strong training force, and that the likely level of UK participation in the training mission will be in the ‘tens’. The PMS said that we were looking at what we can do to support the French with logistical and intelligence support- something that the National Security Council will consider tomorrow.
The government believes there are political and economic considerations- in addition to security: rule of law; judicial independence; the types of structures that strengthen states; anti terrorism financing procedures all form a suite of measures along-side counter terrorism and cooperation with international partners which we are looking to step up.
Further examples of the PM’s strategy of working with international partners in the region, which the PMS said would be built upon and which will enable us to bring those responsible to justice, were highlighted. These included: the appointment of a special representative to the region (Stephen O’Brien); working with the Nigerian government to counter terrorist activity in the north of the country; and contributing to the training of Mauritanian security forces.
The PMS highlighted that the UK was the first country to support the French - in an operation the Malian government requested, backed by the UN and led by the French - who have the longest standing diplomatic connections in the region.
The PMS pointed to early signs that this kind of approach is beginning to work in Somalia, where the government has been working to put more resilient political institutions in place, alongside humanitarian and development assistance and an African led military response.
The PMS highlighted that the government is clearly alive to the threats and the risks around the ungoverned spaces of the Sahel. This is why the PM appointed a special representative to the region.
The government identified changing patters of threats in the 2010 National Security Strategy and has begun to refocus defence and international development spending, as well as diplomatic efforts, such as at the UN, as a result. There is an ongoing process of MoD reform, to strengthening intelligence, communications, special forces - and we will continue to see what more we can do. The PMS referred the Lobby to the PM’s comments that bringing the budget back into is an important step in reforming and reshaping our armed forces.
There is an escalating threat - and the PMS cautioned that it will take time to build up the response. As the PM said our response needs to be: tough; intelligent and patient.
Asked about travel advice, the PMS pointed to the FCO’s very specific advice to British nationals in the region.
Questioned as to whether the government has any evidence that that Britons were involved/ working with the terrorists, the PMS said there was none as yet.