French President: Mali Operation Going Well

France's military intervention in Mali is progressing well, French President Francois Hollande has told Sky News.

The French military plans to more than double its current force in the West African state.

Speakling in Abu Dhabi, Mr Hollande said: "We have obtained results. We have a goal, it's very simple; to obtain the withdrawal of terrorists and to push them abroad.

"We want the African (countries') armies to come as soon as possible to take their place. I know that the British government is behind us."

Earlier he said French forces had carried out further air strikes overnight in Mali "which hit their targets".

"For now, we have 750 men and the number will increase so that as soon as possible we can leave the place to the African forces," he said.

Foreign Office minister Mark Simmonds said the situation in Mali is a "grave concern" to the UK amid fears the rebel-held north could become a "springboard for extremism".

But he stressed David Cameron had offered only limited military support to Mr Hollande.

"The Prime Minister has made categorically clear that the initial supporting deployment will be for a period of one week," he told the Commons.

"He has also made clear that there will be no combat troops from the UK involved and we have no plans to provide more military assistance."

The UK has offered two C-17 Globemaster transport planes to help out. One carrying French military personnel and supplies flew into the capital Bamako on Tuesday.

The US is also providing intelligence-gathering assistance to the French and the UN has now backed the military action.

It says more than 30,000 people have fled the fighting and accused the Islamists of stopping thousands of them from travelling south to government-held zones.

The Mali government appealed for France's help last week when the rebels, who have links to al Qaeda, began moving south.

Hundreds of French troops were deployed after they overran the strategically important town of Konna - about halfway between Mali's northern and southern borders - last Thursday.

On Tuesday afternoon hundreds of Malian and French troops headed for the western town of Diabaly, which Islamists seized the day before, prompting overnight airstrikes from French fighter jets.

"Several hundred Malian and French soldiers left Niono (south of Diabaly) to take" back the town, said a local government official in Niono.

It will be the first time French ground troops have fought with the Islamists. So far only fighter jets have been used to target their bases.

"Our French brothers are currently with us in Niono on their way to Diabaly. Tomorrow we will take back Diabaly with the French," a Malian security source said on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, a convoy of some 30 French tanks left Bamako on Tuesday afternoon, heading in a northerly direction, an AFP journalist said.

They were seen leaving the city's airport, where they had been stationed, but their destination could not be confirmed.

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