France's President Francois Hollande delivers a statment on
the situation in Mali at the Elysee Palace in Paris.
The French air force has carried out an air strike in
Mali in support of government forces trying to push back
Islamist rebels, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.
The raid came as France launched a military intervention in
the west African state to help the government resist a push
south by rebel forces.
Western powers fear the alliance of al Qaeda-linked militants
that seized the northern two-thirds of Mali in April will
seek to use the vast desert zone as a launchpad for
"French forces brought their support this afternoon to Malian
army units to fight against terrorist elements," French
President Francois Hollande told reporters. "This operation
will last as long as is necessary."
Hollande said United Nations Security Council resolutions
meant France was acting in accordance with international
Earlier, Hollande had made it clear that France would
intervene to stop any further drive southward by Islamist
rebels as Malian soldiers launched a counter-offensive to
wrest back a town captured by militants this week.
Mali's government appealed for urgent military aid from
France on Thursday after Islamist fighters encroached further
south, seizing the town of Konna in the centre of the
country. The rebel advance caused panic among residents in
the nearby towns of Mopti and Sevare, home to a military base
"We are faced with blatant aggression that is threatening
Mali's very existence. France cannot accept this," Hollande
said in a New Year speech to diplomats and journalists. "We
will be ready to stop the terrorists' offensive if it
The U.N. Security Council in December authorised the
deployment of an African-led force supported by European
"The French believe that France, and Europe, face a real
security threat from what is happening in the Sahel," said
Jakkie Cilliers, executive director of the Institute for
Security Studies in South Africa.
More than two decades worth of peaceful elections had earned
the Mali a reputation as a bulwark of democracy in a part of
Africa better known for turmoil - an image that unraveled in
a matter of weeks after a coup last March that paved the way
for the Islamist rebellion.
Mali is Africa's third largest gold producer and a major
cotton grower, and home to the fabled northern desert city of
Timbuktu - an ancient trading hub and UNESCO World Heritage
site that hosted annual music festivals before the rebellion.
Residents had seen Western soldiers arriving late on Thursday
at an airport at Sevare, 60 km (40 miles) south of Konna.
Sevare residents also reported the arrival of military
helicopters and army reinforcements, which took part in the
counter-attack to retake Konna overnight on Thursday in a bid
to roll back the militant's southward drive.
"Helicopters have bombarded rebel positions. The operation
will continue," a senior military source in Bamako said.
A source at Sevare airport also said around a dozen war
planes had arrived on Friday. A spokesman for the Nigerian
air force said planes had been deployed to Mali for a
reconnaissance mission, not for combat.
A spokesman one of the main groups in the Islamist rebel
alliance said they remained in control of Konna.
Asked whether the rebels intended to press ahead to capture
Sevare and Mopti, the Ansar Dine spokesman, Sanda Ould
Boumama, said: "We will make that clear in the coming days."
He said any intervention by France would be evidence of an
The French foreign ministry stepped up its security alert on
Mali and parts of neighbouring Mauritania and Niger on
Friday, extending its red alert - the highest level - to
include Bamako. France has 8 nationals in Islamist hands in
the Sahara after a string of kidnappings.
"Due to the serious deterioration in the security situation
in Mali, the threat of attack or abduction is growing," the
ministry said in its travel alert. "It is strongly
recommended that people avoid unnecessarily exposing
themselves to risks."