PARIS — Mirage 2000D fighter-bombers struck Islamist targets in northern Mali on Sunday, expanding the reach of a French military intervention, and more French ground troops flew into Bamako, the capital, for what increasingly looked like the beginning of a long campaign.
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the Obama administration has promised to aid the antiterrorism operation in Mali by providing logistics help, satellite intelligence and in-flight refueling for French warplanes.
Le Drian, in a radio and television appearance, said that several planeloads of additional arrivals brought to 400 the number of French soldiers in Bamako. Another 150, he added, have been deployed 300 miles to the north around Mopti, the main town near the line between government-controlled territory and the northern two-thirds of the country that has been ruled by Islamist militias for the past seven months.
Fears that a southward offensive by Islamist militias was about to overrun Mopti led President Francois Hollande to order the unilateral French military intervention beginning Friday. Le Drian said the Islamist offensive, which was halted by French helicopter gunship raids and Mirage bombing runs, could have punched all the way to Bamako if Hollande had not acted swiftly.
In addition to the French deployment, several African countries have promised to dispatch soldiers immediately to form a vanguard of what eventually will become a pan-African intervention force. With French training and other help, the African force will be assigned to restore government authority over the 250,000-square-mile region that has become a terrorist haven.