HUNDREDS of British troops could be deployed to Africa under plans being considered by British government ministers, as the former head of the Army warns forces face "protracted guerilla warfare" in Mali against rebels.
The British Government is sending scores of troops to assist France in its conflict with Al Qaeda militants in the North African country.
All the troops will perform non-combat roles.
As part of the UK's commitment, up to 40 troops are being offered as part of an EU training mission in Mali to provide a "support role".
Up to 200 soldiers will also be offered for training in other parts of Africa.
The Prime Minister has said the UK is ready to offer logistical, intelligence and surveillance help to France but has ruled out a combat role for British personnel.
The RAF has already provided two heavy-lift C-17 transport planes and a Sentinel surveillance aircraft to assist France's operation, involving 90 military personnel.
Downing Street said that “discussions are ongoing” about how many troops to send to Africa.
“Discussions are ongoing with international partners about the possible training of Malian and African forces through an EU training mission and a wider African Union-led mission,” a spokesman said.
“We are considering how many UK military trainers would deploy alongside our European partners and there are a number of meetings happening today.”
It is thought the soldiers could be deployed in the coming weeks.
Downing Street has insisted that any troops sent to Mali will not serve on the front line.
Former head of the Army General Sir Mike Jackson has backed the Government's position but warned that nations involved may face a "protracted guerrilla warfare".
"It doesn't really surprise me that the British Government feels it needs to be seen to be helping," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
"We cannot let states fail because we know from recent history that failed states just lead to really difficult circumstances, instability."
He added: "What Mali and France, and indeed other countries who may choose to assist may face, of course, is a protracted guerrilla warfare taking place away from the conurbations."
"Think of the progress which we have made in Somalia in the last year – not by deploying Western armies, but by ensuring there is legitimate government, by funding and winning UN approval for African forces to do military work on the ground," he said.
Washington has warned that the conflict could take years to win, fuelling fears that the UK could become involved in the intervention for longer than currently expected.
Peter Dominiczak, Telegraph.co.uk