The Prime Minister is visiting Algeria today to pay his respects to the victims of the hostage crisis. He will also hold talks with Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal, and The Sun reports that he will ask Sellal’s permission for MI6 to hunt down the attack’s mastermind, Mokhtar Belmokhtar. This will mark the next move in the ‘generational struggle’ he described in his Commons statement.
One of the first big steps in this struggle took place yesterday, with Downing Street confirming the deployment of more than 330 troops to North Africa to help the French action in Mali. None of those troops will be in combat roles, with the majority training forces in neighbouring countries. There was some unease about this announcement, though, as previously Downing Street had insisted Britain’s support role would be ‘in the tens, not the hundreds’.
This expansion had clearly unnerved MPs, who questioned Philip Hammond yesterday on the dangers of mission creep when he answered an urgent question from Tory backbencher John Baron. He rejected claims that this conflict could resemble Vietnam or Afghanistan. But it’s worth reading Con Coughlin’s warning on his blog about the dangers of France quickly declaring its Malian mission has been a success and then withdrawing, when the Islamists have simply retreated to the desert. France and Britain may not want to be in it for the long haul, but MPs will become increasingly agitated if the situation ends up drawing both countries in deeper.