Mali plans to increase the size of its army to rein in jihadists

BAMAKO, Jan 29 (Reuters) - Mali will increase the size of its army by about 50% in a recruitment drive this year aimed at uprooting jihadist groups, Prime Minister Boubou Cisse said on Wednesday.

The plan is to hire 10,000 new soldiers in the coming months to "allow our armed and security forces to be much more present in quantity and I hope in quality in areas where they were not," Cisse said.

He did not say how much the increase would cost or how the arid West African country would pay for it when military costs already take up a significant part of the budget.

It was also not clear how it would lure people into an army whose troops are frequently killed in attacks by Islamists.

The army declined to say how many troops it has now, but the World Bank estimated there were 18,000 armed forces personnel in 2017.

Former colonial power France intervened in 2013 to drive back militants who had seized northern Mali in 2012, but groups allied with al Qaeda and Islamic State have sprung back.

Much of central and northern Mali is largely lawless, and groups use the area as a base from which to launch attacks across neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso.

France has 4,500 troops in Mali and the wider Sahel and local international forces have also teamed up to contain the problem, but attacks have continued.

About 20 soldiers were killed in a pre-dawn attack on an army camp in the centre of the country on Sunday and 24 others were killed when militants attacked a patrol in the north in November.

France warned on Monday against possible U.S. troop cuts in West Africa, worried about the impact on logistical support and intelligence gathering.

(Reporting By Tiemoko Diallo, Writing by Edward McAllister, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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