Malian soldiers stand guard while the first German military
transall C-160 cargo lands in Bamako airport. Germany is
lending logistical support to France as it sends its forces
to Mali. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
France has called on other world powers to commit money
and logistical support for African armies readying their troops
to join French soldiers already battling al Qaeda-linked
militants in Mali.
The appeal came as African leaders met in Ivory Coast where
they are expected to agree details of a regional mission that
is due to take over from French forces but is short on
financing, planning and even ammunition.
France has deployed ground troops and its war planes have
bombed rebel columns and bases, halting an Islamist advance.
The intervention aims to stop militants from tightening their
grip on Mali's northern desert zone and using it as a
springboard for attacks in Africa and on the West.
But Human Rights Watch said on Saturday that since France
launched it strikes the group had received reports of serious
abuses, including killings, being committed by Malian
security forces against civilians around the central town of
"We urge the Malian authorities, as well as the French and
(West African) soldiers/authorities to do their utmost to
ensure the protection of all civilians," the New York-based
organisation said in a statement. Malian officials were not
immediately available for comment.
The stakes rose dramatically this week when Islamist gunmen
cited the French intervention as a pretext to attack a desert
gas plant in neighbouring Algeria and seize hostages.
Algeria's army carried out a "final assault" on Saturday,
killing 11 of the militants after they took the lives of
seven foreign hostages.
The Sahara crisis has forced African nations to accelerate
their own planned mission to Mali, which was originally not
expected before September.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said French troops
were not intended to replace the African operation.
"We must, as quickly as possible, furnish the logistical and
financial means required by the Malian army and (the African
mission)," he said, calling on donors to make commitments at
a Jan. 29 conference in Ethiopia.
Mali's north has been occupied by a mix of gunmen since
rebels bolstered with weapons seized from Libya after the
2011 fall of Muammar Gaddafi took up arms last year.
Separatist rebels who launched the fighting were soon
sidelined by the Islamist alliance of al Qaeda's North
African wing AQIM and home-grown Malian groups Ansar Dine and
Heads of state are expected to formally confirm pledges to
dispatch some 5,000 African soldiers to join French forces.
"We must intervene because no economic revival, no region in
the world will be safe if the Sahel goes over to the wrong
side," said Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara.
Nigeria and Togo have already started their deployments, with
Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad expected soon. But a Western
diplomat said plans for the mission were "fluid".
"The troops are meant to go with 10-day self-sufficiency. But
there's nothing in place to say what happens after," the
diplomat said. "Who's going to pay for this, and what
mechanisms are going to pay for it? The money is a big
WAITING FOR AMMUNITION
Underscoring the scale of the challenge, two other diplomats
said Senegal's deployment was being held up by the lack of
ammunition for their artillery. "They are waiting for it to
be delivered," said one.
The bombing of a rebel column by French war planes and
helicopters has halted an advance towards the central towns
of Mopti and Sevare. Air raids and the deployment of French
ground troops have helped Mali's disorganised army fight
The town of Konna was seized back from the insurgents earlier
this week, but there were conflicting reports on Saturday
about the situation in another town, Diabaly.
Malian military sources said French and Malian forces had
entered Diabaly after it was abandoned by the insurgents on
Friday following a number of French air strikes.
"French and Malian forces are clearing the town, house by
house, as the Islamists had sheltered in houses," one of the
However, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said
there were no Malian or French soldiers in Diabaly, and
dismissed media reports of hand-to-hand fighting there.
"I think someone's hallucinating," he told French state TV in
an interview. "There has been no fighting on the ground in
Diabaly. We have said it and are saying it daily."
PAUSE IN OPERATIONS
Seydou Traore, a local government official in nearby Niono,
said troops had moved in to Diabaly after the Islamists left.
The Malian officer who spoke of a house-by-house mop-up after
the exit by Islamist forces said that there would be a pause
in operations as Malian and French forces awaited the
deployment of the African regional mission.
"We are waiting for them to get here before we launch a
bigger and wide-ranging offensive," he said.
Human Rights Watch said that Tuaregs and Arabs, ethnic groups
most associated with the rebels, were being targeted by
Malian forces following the Islamists' retreat.
Le Drian said France had 2,000 troops on the ground in Mali
as of Saturday morning, and the total might eventually exceed
2,500. President Francois Hollande said France's military
intervention would last as long as it takes to "vanquish
terrorism" in the region.
"This is not about us conquering territory or boosting our
influence, or serving some form of trade or economic
interest. That era is over," Hollande said.
"However, France must come to help to a friend country, one
of the poorest in the world, which has been a victim for too
many months, not to say years, of an evermore dreadful form
Military experts say France and its African allies must now
capitalise on a week of hard-hitting air strikes by
preventing the insurgents from regrouping in the desert.
(Additional reporting by Tiemoko Diallo in Bamako, Brian Love
in Paris and Bate Felix in Niono; Additional reporting and
writing by David Lewis; Editing by Rosalind Russell)