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US to Help France in Mali

Mali's Foreign Minister Tieman Coulibaly, center, waits for the start of an emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers at the EU Council building in Brussels, Belgium, January 17, 2013.
The United States has agreed to help France airlift troops and equipment into Mali, where Islamist extremists control the north.

France has asked the Pentagon for help and officials from both countries are holding detailed talks on what is needed. The Pentagon has no plans at this time to send troops into Mali.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian says 1,400 troops are now in Mali and that France plans to send in as many as 2,500 soldiers. He says French forces will stay in Mali until the situation is stable.

West African military chiefs say 2,000 troops from Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, and Togo will soon arrive in Mali as part of a United Nations authorized force.

Also Thursday, residents fled the Malian town of Diabaly which was seized this week by Islamist extremists. Witnesses report fighting between French soldiers and militants nearby.

A Malian journalist told VOA correspondent Anne Look that phone lines in Diabaly are dead and that residents have reported Islamists deployed throughout the town.

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.

France sent troops into Mali at the request of the country's interim government.

African Union Deputy Commissioner Erastus Mwencha told VOA the organization always seeks a peaceful resolution in Mali, but he says there is a need now for a military force.

"We need to send a strong signal to the separatists and the people who are there that the action cannot be tolerated, and we need to eventually get -- our expectation finally is to restore peace to make sure Mali remains as an integral state and that the state is in charge, that Mali is in charge of its own affairs," Mwencha said.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters.