Louth MP Sir Peter Tapsell has warned that interference in the conflict in Mali will only serve to ‘higher the threat of terrorism in this country’.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday Sir Peter, the Father of the House, told defence secretary Philip Hammond that supporting French troops in Africa would also spread jihadism throughout the Islamic world.
The debate came as it was announced that Britain would be sending 240 military personnel to Africa to help deal with the conflict.
Sir Peter said: “May I repeat to my right hon. Friend what I said unavailingly to his five Labour predecessors as Defence Secretary that the more frequently western forces intervene in Muslim countries, the greater will be the spread of jihadism throughout the whole Islamic world and the higher the threat of terrorism in this country?”
Philip Hammond said he understood the message, but responded that the long term aim was for a democractically elected government to run Mali, a country he described as ‘of two halves’.
“I hear my right hon. Friend’s warning loudly and clearly, but of course precisely the problem that we are dealing with is that Mali is not an Islamic country,” he said.
“Mali is a country with a majority Christian population, with a significant Islamic minority. It is a country of two halves geographically, climatically, religiously, culturally and ethnically.
“That is the challenge, but the solution must be a democratically elected Government in Bamako who effectively represent all parts of that country. That is the long-term aim that we all aspire to achieve.”
MPs said they feared this would turn into ‘mission creep’, meaning it would only serve to escalate further conflicts on the future.
Mr Hammond said: “I do not accept that this is an example of mission creep. What we have done is extremely modest.
“We are providing strategic air-lift support for a limited period and one surveillance aircraft, operating from a neighbouring, friendly country, and we are now talking about deploying up to 250 troops in a training role, most of which will be carried out in the countries donating the troop forces.”