French to triple troops in Mali
BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — France is tripling the number of troops deployed to Mali to 2,500, part of the massive preparation for a land assault to dislodge the Islamist extremists occupying the West African country’s north.
The increased total of French troops was confirmed in Paris Tuesday by a French Ministry of Defense official, who refused to give his name because he was not authorized to speak.
Despite a punishing, five-day campaign of aerial bombardments, the al-Qaida-linked rebels have continued to advance south, seizing a strategic military camp in central Mali, and embedding themselves in villages of thatched roofs, making it impossible to bomb without killing civilians.
The number of French soldiers in Mali is rapidly increasing from the Tuesday morning count of 800, including elite special forces. Every few hours, enormous transport planes are landing at Bamako’s airport, loaded with supplies and more soldiers.
Overnight, a regiment of 150 French soldiers drove overland from neighboring Ivory Coast, bringing in a convoy of 40 armored vehicles, including the ERC-90, a tank-like car, mounted with a 90 mm cannon.
Several thousand soldiers from the nations neighboring Mali are also expected to begin arriving soon, and Nigeria said nearly 200 would be coming in the next 24 hours.