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France Begins Ground Operations in Mali

  • VOA News

French army soldiers stand on armored vehicles as they leave Bamako and start their deployment to the north of Mali as part of the "Serval" operations, January 15, 2013.

French army soldiers stand on armored vehicles as they leave Bamako and start their deployment to the north of Mali as part of the "Serval" operations, January 15, 2013.

French and Malian forces have converged on the town of Diabaly, which Islamist militants who control northern Mali seized earlier this week.

A reporter for VOA's French to Africa Service spoke to a resident of Diabaly, who says Malian army personnel have surrounded the town. French media reports say French special forces are also present and that fighting in Diabaly is underway.

On Tuesday, French warplanes conducted airstrikes on the town, located 400 kilometers north of the capital, Bamako.

Foreign Troop Commitments to Mali

  • France 2,000 on the ground, 500 more committed
  • Chad to send 2,000
  • Nigeria to send 1,200
  • Benin to send 650
  • Burkina Faso, Niger, Senegal, Togo have committed 500 each
  • Guinea and Ghana are also sending troops
VOA correspondent Anne Look reports from Bamako that the city remains calm despite fears that groups of Islamist fighters are moving southward.

"You continue hearing reports of Islamist rebels infiltrated Segou, which is near Diabaly," she says. "And also I spoke with the military police at Koulikoro, which is a military base about 55 kilometers outside Bamako, and they said they have been out on patrols looking for Islamists who are believed to have infriltrated further south. It appears to be life as usual for now in Bamako."

US support

Meanwhile, the U.S. military says it is providing air transport and in-air refueling for the operation in Mali. U.S. officials have repeatedly said the U.S. is not involved in the fighting.

France sent troops into Mali on Friday at the request of the country's interim government, as Islamist fighters began an offensive. France says it will eventually deploy 2,500 soldiers who will stay in Mali until the situation is stable.

Nigeria deployed its first 190 soldiers to Mali on Wednesday. The soldiers are the vanguard of a projected a 3,300-troop West African force authorized by the United Nations to help combat the militants.

Islamist threat

Al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremists seized control of northern Mali after renegade soldiers toppled the government in March, leaving a temporary power vacuum. The militants have imposed harsh conservative Islamic law across the north.

Western and United Nations officials are concerned that the Islamists could turn Mali into a base for terrorists and criminals.

Mali is a former French colony and France still has a variety of economic and political interests there.

French objectives

Recent French Interventions in Africa

  • Mali 2013:
    French forces launch air strikes on Islamists rebels.
  • Somalia 2013:
    French commandos are killed during failed hostage rescue mission.
  • Ivory Coast 2011:
    French forces move in after Laurent Gbagbo refuses to step down following contested elections.
  • Libya 2011:
    French planes are first to bomb Moammar Gadhafi's forces after U.N. votes to allow intervention to protect civilians.
President Francois Hollande says France's goals are stopping terrorist aggression, securing Bamako, and allowing Mali to recover its territorial integrity. He also says France will support the African force that soon will be in Mali.

The West African bloc ECOWAS is speeding up its planned deployment to Mali, which had not been expected until September.

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