A French soldier between two Mirage F1 fighter jets at the Malian army air base in Bamako, 14 JanuaryFrance has 750 troops in Mali and is expected to increase that number to 2,500

Troops from a regional West African force will be in Mali within days to help a French intervention against Islamist rebels, Nigeria says.

The force’s commander, Gen Shehu Abdulkadir, confirmed the move to the BBC as West African military commanders met in Mali’s capital, Bamako.

France has 750 troops in Mali and is expected to increase that to 2,500.

It began its intervention last Friday with the aim of halting the Islamists’ advance south.


‘Confident’

Nigeria now plans to provide 900 troops for the force, 300 more than previously announced.

The force is expected to be 3,300 strong. It will be deployed under UN Security Council resolution 2085, which was passed in December.



Analysis



France’s wider goal in this campaign is unclear. Is this a mission to push back and contain the Islamist forces? Or is its aim that the government in Bamako expand its control into the vast north of the country?

That is a huge task in military terms, leaving aside the very real political problems which in many ways precipitated this crisis in the first place.

France speaks of handing over the mission to African forces as soon as possible. But how effective will the multinational West African force be?

And what about the Malian army itself? It has suffered severe reverses. It has lost quantities of equipment. It needs to be reformed and retrained. Key EU countries are willing to undertake this task – but again, it will take time.

The African troops may well require French air power and logistical support for the foreseeable future. And for the moment, it is largely French forces that must hold the line.



Nigerian Col Mohammed Yerima said: “The president approved the deployment of a battalion, and in the next 24 hours a company of the battalion will be deployed.”

Nigeria has the biggest military in Ecowas, the regional grouping that is overseeing the military response.

Ivory Coast army chief Gen Soumaila Bakayoko said: “We are here today to speak essentially about the engagement alongside our Malian brothers in arms, to liberate the north of Mali.”

Benin, Ghana, Niger, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Togo have also pledged troops.

A summit of West African leaders on Saturday is expected to discuss the crisis further, as will a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Thursday.

French warplanes have carried out a series of air strikes on Islamist positions since the intervention began on Friday.

The raids continued overnight, with President Francois Hollande saying they had “achieved their goal”.

He told RFI radio: “We are confident about the speed with which we will be able to stop the aggressors, the enemy, these terrorists.”


Raids on Diabaly

Islamists are reported to have withdrawn from the major towns of Timbuktu and Gao.

They struck back by taking Diabaly, 400km (250 miles) north-east of Bamako, on Monday.

Major air strikes were carried out overnight to try to dislodge them.

At least 11 Malian soldiers and a French helicopter pilot have died in Mali since Friday’s intervention. More than 100 militants are reported to have been killed.

Islamist groups and secular Tuareg rebels took advantage of chaos following a military coup to seize northern Mali in April 2012.

But the Islamists soon took control of the region’s major towns, sidelining the Tuaregs.

The UN says some 144,500 Malian refugees have been registered in neighbouring countries since April 2012.

It also says that 30,000 people have been displaced as a direct result of conflict this month.


The battle for Mali


Map showing areas of  control in MaliFrench forces have bombed rebel bases in Mali, where Islamist rebels have threatened to advance on the capital Bamako from their strongholds in the north. France said it had decided to act to stop the offensive, which could create “a terrorist state at the doorstep of France and Europe”.


Mali in 1930sThe landlocked area of West Africa was the core of ancient empires going back to the 4th Century. The French colonised Mali, then known as French Sudan, at the end of the 19th Century, while Islamic religious wars created theocratic states in the region.


Malian soldiersMali gained independence in 1960 but endured droughts, rebellions and 23 years of military dictatorship until democratic elections in 1992. In the early 1990s, the nomadic Tuareg of the north began an insurgency over land and cultural rights.


RebelsThe insurgency gathered momentum in 2007, and was exacerbated by an influx of arms from the 2011 Libyan civil war. Tuareg nationalists, alongside Islamist groups with links to al-Qaeda, seized control of the north in 2012 after a military coup by soldiers frustrated by government efforts against the rebels.


Refugee at UNHCR Mangaize refugee camp in NigerThe fighting in the north and the establishment of a harsh form of Islamic law has forced thousands to flee their homes – some estimates say more than half the northern population has fled south or across borders into neighbouring countries.


French fighter jetIn January 2013, the Islamists captured the central city of Konna. France, responding to appeals for help from the Mali president, has sent about 550 troops to the Mopti and to Bamako, which is home to about 6,000 French nationals. French jets have also launched air strikes.



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Mali conflict: West African troops to arrive ‘in days’ – BBC News
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