Mali Conflict: France Sends In More Troops

Mali Conflict: France Sends In More Troops

France is sending more troops into Mali as it steps up its military operation to wrest back the north from al Qaeda-linked groups.

On the seventh day of fighting, the French have increased their soldiers to 1,400 and are planning to deploy a total of 2,500.

It came as fighting broke out in the towns of Konna and Diabaly and army troops raced to protect Banamba - amid fears militants had reached 90 miles away from the capital.

The African Union is also bolstering its military support with Nigerian troops expected to arrive in Mali on Thursday and a contingent of 500 Togolese troops on their way to the country.

An eventual African force of over 5,000 troops is expected.

Although all European Union countries pledged their support for French action, with some, including Britain, offering logistical help, none have committed to providing combat troops.

During an emergency meeting on the crisis, EU foreign ministers approved sending a military training mission of hundreds of personnel, which will train local soldiers and provide advice.

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said some countries were considering offering troops.

"It is completely possible - but this is up to them - that others or the same European countries decide to offer not just logistical support, but also to make soldiers available. But we're not going to force them to, obviously," he said.

Western stakes in the crisis were underlined when Islamist militants took foreign and local workers hostage at an Algerian desert gas facility - demanding that France pull its troops out of Mali.

French President Francois Hollande said the crisis in Algeria showed the French intervention in Mali is "justified".

The reach of Islamist extremist groups in Mali extends 600 miles east in Algeria.

On Thursday, fighting was ongoing in Konna and Diabaly, according to British and French sources, said Sky News' Alex Crawford. She said the towns have not yet been reclaimed by the French.

Diabaly was taken by Islamic extremists earlier this week and has been the scene of intense fighting with French special forces continuing bombardments and a land assault there on Thursday.

Fresh fighting erupted on Thursday in Konna - 430 miles from the capital -  between Islamists and Malian soldiers in the city whose capture by the militants first prompted French military intervention.

Some 100 Malian soldiers were rushed to Banamba - a town located only 90 miles from the capital - after a reported sighting of jihadists in the area.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said: "The actions of French forces, be it air forces or ground forces, are ongoing.They took place yesterday, they took place last night, they took place today, they will take place tomorrow."

French officials say the opposition they have encountered has been fiercer and the rebels are more heavily armed than they had anticpated.

Security experts warn that the extremists are carving out their own territory in northern Mali from where they can plot terror attacks in Africa and Europe.

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