BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union approved plans on Monday to send some 250 trainers to Mali to help the army defeat Islamists who have taken over the country's desert north.
The force, which would not join Malian troops in battle, is part of a wider international effort against the militants, as fears grow that the African country could turn into a platform for attacks on Western states and their allies.
The EU Training Mission's goal is to help Mali's armed forces function more effectively, while respecting the rule of law and international standards of conduct, EU foreign ministers said in a statement.
Soldiers from EU member states, accompanied by a protection force, are likely to provide basic training to around four battalions of the Malian army, or 2,600 people, at centers some 250 kilometers north of the capital Bamako, EU officials say.
The militants have attracted criminal networks and Al Qaeda-linked gunmen and are recruiting hundreds of locals, including children, and a trickle of foreign fighters.
African leaders are also seeking a U.N. mandate to dispatch a mainly West African force of about 4,000 troops to Mali. It would be tasked with rebuilding Mali's army and then launching an operation to help wrest back the north.
However, U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said last week that no such military operation could take place before September 2013.
(Reporting By Sebastian Moffett; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)