The flag-draped coffin of French lieutenant Damien Boiteux,
who was killed during the French intervention in Mali, is
carried by pallbearers into the courtyard of the Invalides
during a national ceremony of homage in Paris.
France will end its intervention in Mali only once
stability has returned to the West African country, French
President Francois Hollande says, raising the prospects of a
costly, drawn-out operation against al Qaeda-linked rebels.
Paris has poured hundreds of soldiers into Mali and carried
out air raids since Friday in the northern half of the
country, which Western and regional states fear could become
a base for attacks by Islamist militants in Africa and
Thousands of African troops are due to take over the
offensive but regional armies are scrambling to accelerate
the operation - initially not expected for months and brought
forward by France's bombing campaign aimed at stopping a
rebel advance on a strategic town last week.
"We have one goal. To ensure that when we leave, when we end
our intervention, Mali is safe, has legitimate authorities,
an electoral process and there are no more terrorists
threatening its territory," Hollande told a news conference
during a visit to the United Arab Emirates.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, accompanying Hollande, said
the offensive against the Malian rebels could take some time,
and the current French level of involvement could last weeks.
Elections, however, would take months to organise.
French aircraft earlier hit rebels with fresh air strikes and
a column of dozens of French armoured vehicles rumbled into
the dusty riverside capital of Bamako overnight, bringing to
about 750 the number of French troops in Mali.
Paris has said it plans to deploy 2,500 soldiers in its
former colony to bolster the Malian army and work with the
intervention force provided by West African states.
West African defence chiefs met in Bamako on Tuesday to
approve plans for speeding up the deployment of 3,300
regional troops, foreseen in a United Nations-backed
intervention plan to be led by Africans.
Nigeria pledged to deploy soldiers within 24 hours and
Belgium said it was sending transport planes and helicopters
to help, but West Africa's armies need time to become
Mali's north, a vast and inhospitable area of desert and
rugged mountains the size of Texas, was seized last year by
an Islamist alliance combining al Qaeda's north African wing
AQIM with splinter group MUJWA and the home-grown Ansar Dine
Any delay in following up on the French air bombardments of
Islamist bases and fuel depots with a ground offensive could
allow the insurgents to slip away into the desert and
mountains, regroup and counter-attack.
The rebels, who French officials say are mobile and
well-armed, have shown they can hit back, dislodging
government forces from Diabaly, 350 km (220 miles) from
Bamako on Monday.
Residents said the town was still under Islamist control on
Tuesday despite a number of air strikes that shook houses.
An eye witness near Segou, to the south, told Reuters he had
seen 20 French Special Forces soldiers driving toward
Malians have largely welcomed the French intervention, having
seen their army suffer a series of defeats by the rebels.
"With the arrival of the French, we have started to see the
situation on the front evolve in our favour," said Aba
Sanare, a resident of Bamako.
QUESTIONS OVER READINESS
Aboudou Toure Cheaka, a senior regional official in Bamako,
said the West African troops would be on the ground in a
The original timetable for the 3,300-strong U.N.-sanctioned
African force - to be backed by western logistics, money and
intelligence services - did not initially foresee full
deployment before September due to logistical constraints.
Senegal, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Guinea have all
offered troops. Col. Mohammed Yerima, spokesman for Nigeria's
defence ministry, said the first 190 soldiers would be
dispatched within 24 hours.
But Nigeria, which is due to lead the mission, has already
cautioned that even if some troops arrive in Mali soon, their
training and equipping will take more time.
Sub-Saharan Africa's top oil producer, which already has
peacekeepers in Sudan's Darfur and is fighting a bloody and
difficult insurgency at home against Islamist sect Boko
Haram, could struggle to deliver on its troop commitment of
One senior government adviser in Nigeria said the Mali
deployment was stretching the country's military.
"The whole thing's a mess. We don't have any troops with
experience of those extreme conditions, even of how to keep
all that sand from ruining your equipment. And we're facing
battle-hardened guys who live in those dunes," the adviser
said, asking not to be named because of the sensitivity of
FRENCH LINING UP SUPPORT
France, which has repeatedly said it has abandoned its role
as the policeman of its former African colonies, said on
Monday that the U.S., Canada, Denmark and Germany had also
offered logistical support.
Fabius has said Gulf Arab states would help the Mali campaign
while Belgium said on Tuesday it would send two C130
transport planes and two medical helicopters to Mali
following a request from Paris.
A meeting of donors for the operation was expected to be held
in Addis Ababa at the end of January.
Security experts have warned that the multinational
intervention in Mali, couched in terms of a campaign by
governments against "terrorism", could provoke a jihadist
backlash against France and the West, and African allies.
U.S. officials have warned of links between AQIM, Boko Haram
in Nigeria and al Shabaab Islamic militants fighting in
Al Shabaab, which foiled a French effort at the weekend to
rescue a French secret agent it was holding hostage, urged
Muslims around the world to rise up against what it called
"Christian" attacks against Islam.
"Our brothers in Mali, show patience and tolerance and you
will win. War planes never liberate a land," Sheikh Ali
Mohamud Rage, al Shabaab's spokesman, said on a rebel-run
U.S. officials said Washington was sharing information with
French forces in Mali and considering providing logistics,
surveillance and airlift capability.
"We have made a commitment that al Qaeda is not going to find
anyplace to hide," U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told
reporters as he began a visit to Europe. Panetta later said
the U.S. had no plans to send troops to Mali.
"I don't know what the French endgame is for this. What is
their goal? It reminds me of our initial move into
Afghanistan," a U.S. military source told Reuters.
"Air strikes are fine. But pretty soon you run out of easy
targets. Then what do you do? What do you do when they head
up into the mountains?"