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'Everyone will fight:' International forces join Mali offensive

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 23rd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Forces from Chad have advanced towards the Malian border as an African troop deployment and a U.S. military airlift added to the growing international support for French operations against Islamist insurgents occupying the north of Mali.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Experienced in desert operations, Chadian troops moved north from the Niger capital Niamey on the road to Ouallam, 60 miles from the Malian border, where Nigerian troops are stationed.

France has urged a swift deployment of the planned U.N.-mandated African force to back up its 2,150 soldiers already there. France launched air strikes in Mali over a week ago to halt a surprise Islamist offensive toward the capital of Bamako. The number of French troops could be boosted to more than 3,000 in the coming days and weeks.

The military intervention is intended to prevent northern Mali from becoming a launch pad for international attacks by al-Qaeda and its local allies in North and West Africa. Fears of this increased sharply after a hostage-taking raid by Islamist militants last week on a gas plant in Algeria.

A dreaded entry into Mali from Niger by part of the African force would widen the front of operations against the Islamist alliance in the north that groups al-Qaida's North African wing AQIM and the Malian militant groups Ansar Dine and MUJWA.

French and Malian armored columns earlier this week moved into the towns of Diabaly and Douentza in central Mali. Diabaly is only 220 miles north of Bamako, while Douentza is 500 miles away from the riverside capital.

Visiting Nigerian President Mahamadou Issoufou condemned the Islamist alliance. An imam, or Muslim cleric, said prayers for the troops in Ouallam.

"We are going to war. A war imposed on us by traffickers of all kinds, an unjust war, from which the peaceful citizens of northern Mali are suffering terribly," Issoufou told the forces. "I am confident in your burning desire for victory."

France says troops will remain in Mali until they have dislodged the Islamist fighters from the north and fair elections can be held once again in its former colony.

The United States has started transporting French soldiers and equipment to Mali from the Istres air base in southern France. Washington completed the fifth of an estimated 30 flights in an airlift expected to run for about a week.

A U.S. military cargo plane was seen landing at the international airport and offload about 40 French soldiers, jeeps, and other equipment.

In addition, Britain, Belgium, Canada and Denmark were already transporting French material to Mali.

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