ABUJA — Nigeria says it will deploy troops to Mali within 24 hours, with more to follow in the coming week. This comes as French troops continue to battle Islamist militants in the north of Mali, waiting for support from West African countries.
President Goodluck Jonathan said late Monday that Nigerian troops will be in Mali within a week. Defense spokesman Colonel Mohammed Yerima told VOA that about 190 soldiers, one company, will be deployed by Wednesday, with another 700 to follow.
In recent days, rebel groups who control the north of Mali have advanced south into government-controlled territory. Over the weekend, France sent planes and hundreds of soldiers into the fray, citing fears that the rebels could move on the capital, Bamako.
West African countries have been planning for months to send a force of more than 3,000 troops to Mali to help the government retake the north. Jonathan said the Nigerian commander of the force is already on the ground in Mali, along with an air force technical team.
Militant groups have criticized France for its intervention in Mali, calling the conflict "France’s Afghanistan."
Malian Prime Minister Django Cissoko describes the rebel groups as "terrorists and organized criminals".
He says fighting in Mali is now threatening the entire Sahel region and Mali needs international assistance to survive.
The Islamists in Mali have imposed a harsh form of Sharia in the north and are accused of numerous human rights abuses, including public executions, floggings, and amputations.
Along with Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, and Burkina Faso are expected to send troops to Mali. ECOWAS has urged the member countries to ‘deploy immediately.’