Magharebia (Washington DC)

Mali: France Ramps Up Mali Intervention

Photo: Ministère de la Défense Française
French army helicopters in the Malian desert.

Thousands of French and African troops are on their way to Mali to push back an Islamist offensive.

French forces continued airstrikes for the fifth day Tuesday (January 15th) against al-Qaeda-linked Islamists in Mali.

France is also stepping up the deployment of ground troops, with a total of 2,500 soldiers slated for Mali, AFP reported.

"We will continue the deployment of forces on the ground and in the air," French President Francois Hollande said. "We have 750 troops deployed at the moment and that will keep increasing so that as quickly as possible we can hand over to the Africans."

On Tuesday, French warplanes hit rebel positions in Diabaly, a western Mali town captured by Islamists a day earlier. Several jihadists were killed, according to witnesses. Diabaly lies just 400 kilometres from the Malian capital of Bamako.

The attack on Diabaly was led by Algerian terrorist Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, one of the leaders of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a regional security source told AFP. Abou Zeid (real name Mohamed Ghadir) heads up AQIM's Tariq ibn Ziyad brigade.

Meanwhile, Algeria moved on Monday to seal off its border with Mali.

"We have informed the Malian side of the measures taken to close the border," foreign ministry spokesman Amar Belani said following Malian Prime Minister Diango Cissoko's visit to Algeria.

Algeria has already authorised the use of its airspace for international efforts to push back the Islamist advance.

Mauritania is also working to shore up border security as the Mali conflict intensifies. Mauritanian troops were sent to reinforce the area around Bassiknou in the east and Kobenni in the south while the air force increased surveillance flights.

"Our army has been redeployed along the areas bordering the fighting, with a view to better secure our country and seal its borders," a Mauritanian military source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Mauritian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz met with President Hollande in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday on the side-lines of a global energy summit.

Troops from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are also rushing to back up the Malian government.

The first of a planned 900 Nigerian troops will deploy to Mali in the next 24 hours as part of a UN-authorised African force aimed at helping the country battle Islamist insurgents, a Nigerian defence spokesman said Tuesday.

ECOWAS chiefs of staff met Tuesday in Bamako to co-ordinate the deployment of a long-awaited military intervention.

"We are here today to talk primarily of commitment... to our brothers in arms in Mali, for, of course, freeing northern Mali," said General Soumaila Bakayoko, chief of staff of the Ivorian army.

The West African bloc plans to deploy at least 3,300 troops in an effort to retake northern Mali from radical Islamists. European states have also pledged military trainers as part of the UN-backed effort.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the international assistance for Mali on Monday, stressing the need to support Malian defence forces and the deployment of the African-led International Support Mission in Mali, or AFISMA.

"The Secretary-General hopes these actions will help to arrest the latest offensive while efforts continue to fully implement Security Council Resolution 2085 (2012) aimed at the full restoration of Mali's constitutional order and territorial integrity," according to a statement released by his spokesperson.

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