African troops assemble in Mali

Troops from Nigeria are expected in Mali today nearly a week after French forces began a military operation to oust radical Islamists from power, according to an official with the West African regional bloc.

Troops from Nigeria are expected in Mali today nearly a week after French forces began a military operation to oust radical Islamists from power, according to an official with the West African regional bloc.

Troops from Niger will also will be deployed today along their shared border, said Aboudou Toure Cheaka, special representative for the president of the ECOWAS commission.

Forces from Burkina Faso and Togo are expected to be in place this weekend or early next week.

France has more than 800 troops in Mali, and expects to ramp up to a total of 2,500 that will include Foreign Legionnaires.

It has committed helicopter gunships, fighter jets, surveillance planes and refuelling tankers in the fight against the Islamists who seized control of northern Mali last year.

French troops pressed northwards yesterday, towards territory occupied for months by Islamist militants, military officials said, at the start of a land assault which will put soldiers in direct combat.

France’s defence minister said soldiers were heading away from the relative safety of the capital Bamako towards rebel strongholds in the north of the West African former French colony.

Five days of air strikes did little to erode the Islamist gains, which some in the West fear could turn the region into a launching pad for terrorist attacks.

The ground assault reversed France’s earlier insistence that it would provide only air and logistical support for a military intervention led by African troops.

More in this section

IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox