BRUSSELS (AFP) - The EU's executive stressed on Monday that there would be no combat role for a 400-strong European Union military training mission in Mali but it will be speeded up due to events, with a launch likely by early February.
EU leaders in December approved a plan to send some 250 military trainers for the Malian army, backed by a protection force and other personnel, bringing the total of EU soldiers to be sent to the West African nation to 400-500.
Asked whether a combat role could be ruled out despite France's military involvement in a Malian offensive against Islamist rebels, a spokesman said 'yes'.
"The training mission still makes sense. It is even more urgent to launch our mission," said Mr Michael Mann, spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
Ms Ashton last week called for preparations to launch the training mission to be speeded up and a diplomatic source told AFP that Brussels hoped to have it in place in early February.
The mission is due to get the official green light from EU ministers on Jan 22 with its commander, French General Francois Lecointre, due there in coming days, another source said.
Mr Mann said EU officials would hold crisis talks on Mali later on Monday.
The 27-nation bloc "is ready to consider" financial aid for an African-led international support mission in Mali, known as AFISMA, approved by the United Nations, he added.