Wednesday, February 21, 2018

U.S. begins transporting French troops to Mali

SEGOU, Mali — U.S. planes transported French troops and equipment to Mali, a U.S. military spokesman said Tuesday, as Malian and French forces pushed toward the Islamist-held north.

The U.S. Air Force has flown five C-17 flights into Bamako, the capital, delivering more than 80 French troops and 124 tons of equipment, Pentagon press secretary George Little said Tuesday. He said the United States is still considering a French request for U.S. aerial refueling support.

The U.S. C-17 transport planes began flights from the French base in Istres, France.

The French-led mission began on Jan. 11 after the rebels pushed south and threatened the capital. But there are grave doubts that the Malian army will be able to hold newly recovered territory without foreign support.

Col. Thierry Burkhard, a French military spokesman, said selective airstrikes were continuing against suspected rebel targets. He said radical Islamist fighters have been trying to disperse in light of the French bombardments and had become "less dangerous" than before.

In recent days, French fighter jets and helicopter gunships have conducted about a dozen sorties a day in the former French colony.

Gen. Ibrahima Dahirou, the head of Mali's armed forces, told Radio France Internationale that French airstrikes have made all the difference. The Malian military, he said, now has the objective of retaking all northern Mali.

France said about 1,000 African troops from Nigeria, Togo, Benin, Niger and Chad are now taking part in the military intervention. France hopes West African soldiers will eventually take the lead alongside Malian troops in securing the country.

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