Jan 13 2013
Troops from Mali's neighbours are expected to join hundreds of French soldiers in the battle to push back Islamic extremists holding Mali's north.
The fight has left at least 11 civilians dead in its first two days, including three children who threw themselves into a river and drowned trying to avoid falling bombs.
Niger, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Nigeria agreed to send soldiers, a day after France authorised airstrikes, dispatching fighter jets from neighbouring Chad and bombing rebel positions north of Mopti, the last Malian-controlled town.
State television announced that the African troops, including as many as 500 each from Burkina Faso and Niger, are expected to begin arriving soon.
Britain has offered the use of its transport planes in order to help bring in the soldiers, according to a statement released by Prime Minister David Cameron's office.
The African soldiers will work alongside French special forces, including a contingent that arrived yesterday in Bamako in order to secure the capital against retaliatory attacks by the al Qaida-linked rebel groups occupying Mali's northern half.
National television broadcast footage of the French troops walking single-file out of the Bamako airport, weapons strapped to their bodies. Some carried them like skis, against their shoulder.
The military operation began on Friday, after the fall of the town of Konna on Thursday to the al Qaida-linked groups. Konna is only 30 miles north of the government's line of control, which begins at the town of Mopti, home to the largest concentration of Malian troops in the country.
The United Nations had cautioned that a military intervention needed to be properly planned, and outlined a step-by-step process that diplomats said would delay the operation until at least September of this year. The rebels' decision to push south, and the swift fall of Konna, changed everything.
After an appeal for help from Mali's president, French President Francois Hollande sent in the Mirage jets and combat helicopters, pounding rebel convoys and destroying a militant base.
www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/ (Fench government)