France extends air raids in Mali
Updated: 2013-01-13 15:54
Though only two days into the air campaign, Paris has already begun to see casualties. A French pilot was killed on Friday when rebels shot down his helicopter near the town of Mopti.
French troops prepare to board a transport plane in N'Djamena, Chad, in this photo released by the French Army Communications Audiovisual office (ECPAD) on January 12, 2013. French forces carried out a second day of air strikes against Islamist rebels in Mali on Saturday and sent troops to protect the capital Bamako in an operation involving several hundred soldiers, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said. [Photo/Agencies]
French President Francois Hollande said France's purpose in Mali was to support the West African troop deployment, which is agreed by the UN, the European Union (EU) and the United States.
Some western African nations feared that armed groups could use Mali as a power base to plot attacks on the West and expand their influence in Yemen, Somalia and North Africa.
"We've already held back the progress of our adversaries and inflicted heavy losses on them...Our mission is not over yet," Hollande said.
Cote d'Ivoire President Alassane Ouattara, chairman of the regional bloc ECOWAS, decided to deploy some 3,300 African soldiers.
"By Monday at the latest, the troops will be there or will have started to arrive ... The reconquest of the north has already begun," said Cote d'Ivoire African Integration Minister Ali Coulibaly.
The multinational force is expected to be headed by Nigerian Major-General Shehu Abdulkadir. Its troops would come from countries like Burkina Faso, Niger and Senegal, each of which announced they would send 500 soldiers.
French army chief Edouard Guillaud said his country has no plan to send land troops to chase the rebels into the north, and is waiting for ECOWAS forces.
The French Foreign Ministry advised its 6,000 citizens in Mali to leave, while thousands more French live across West Africa, particularly in Senegal and Cote d'Ivoire.
In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman said the British government would support France's intervention and is ready to offer two C-17 transport planes.
With the battle going on, Mali's Interim President Dioncounda Traore on Friday declared a 10-day nationwide state of emergency and requisitioned all state owned pick-up vehicles and appealed for support for the country's army from companies based in Mali, a move indicating the government's determination to restore territorial integrity.