France vows to remain in Mali until nation stabilizes
Nations rally around African nation beset by Islamist rebels
French President Francois Hollande has vowed that France will remain in the embattled African nation of Mali until the situation stabilizes. The sprawling African nation has become embroiled in conflict with Islamic militant forces combining al Qaeda's North African wing AQIM along with splinter group MUJWA and the home-grown Ansar Dine rebels.
Hundreds of French troops have poured into Mali, carrying out air raids since last week in the northern half of the country. The west fears the area could become a base for attacks by Islamist militants in Africa and Europe.
"We have one goal. To ensure that when we leave, when we end our intervention, Mali is safe, has legitimate authorities, an electoral process and there are no more terrorists threatening its territory," Hollande told a news conference during a visit to the United Arab Emirates.
French forces had earlier hit rebels with fresh air strikes while a column of dozens of armored vehicles rumbled into the riverside capital of Bamako. There are about 750 French troops currently in Mali. Paris intends to deploy 2,500 soldiers in its former colony to bolster the Malian army. France also plans to work with the intervention force provided by West African states.
Neighboring African nation Nigeria has pledged to deploy soldiers within 24 hours. Belgium has also said it was sending transport planes and helicopters to help.
Mali's north, a rough area of hills and desert the size of Texas was seized last year by an Islamist alliance. Any delay in following up on the French air bombardments of Islamist bases and fuel depots with a ground offensive could allow the insurgents to slip away into the desert and mountains, regroup and counter-attack.
French officials say the rebels are highly mobile and well-armed, and are capable of retaliating. In Diabaly, 220 miles from Bamako is still under Islamist control on despite a number of air strikes that shook houses.
An eye witness near Segou, to the south, told Reuters he had seen 20 French Special Forces soldiers driving toward Diabaly.
Malians have largely welcomed the French intervention, having seen their army suffer a series of defeats by the rebels. "With the arrival of the French, we have started to see the situation on the front evolve in our favor," a resident of Bamako says.
© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM
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