African troops to push back Mali extremists

Updated: 2013-01-14 08:10

(China Daily/Agencies)

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Troops from Mali's neighbors are expected to join hundreds of French soldiers in the battle to push back Islamic extremists holding Mali's north, a fight that in its first two days has left at least 11 civilians dead, including three children who threw themselves into a river and drowned trying to avoid falling bombs.

African troops to push back Mali extremists

A picture released by the French Army Communications Audiovisual office shows French Mirage 2000 D aircraft flying to N’Djamena overnight from Friday to Saturday. [Photo/Agencies]

Niger, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Nigeria agreed on Saturday to send in soldiers, a day after France authorized airstrikes, dispatching fighter jets from 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 on Sunday. Britain has offered the use of its transport planes to help bring in the soldiers, according to a statement released by Prime Minister David Cameron's office in London.

The African soldiers will work alongside French special forces, including a contingent that arrived on Saturday in Bamako 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 on Saturday, weapons strapped to their bodies. Some carried them like skis, against their shoulders.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Sunday that France now has more than 400 troops in Bamako, mainly to ensure the safety of French citizens and also to send a signal to the extremists.

"We will strengthen our operation depending on the situation," he said on a political talk show with the French TV channel i-Tele and Europe 1 radio. Le Drian said Rafale fighter jets will be part of the operation and technical support will be arriving in the hours ahead.

He said France has international support and "the Americans seconded us" with intelligence and logistical support, though he did not elaborate.

Storage hangars and "sensitive sites" were among the targets destroyed so far and the Islamists lost a "significant number" in the fighting, Le Drian said. "The intervention is still in progress and we will continue" as long as needed.

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