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French forces enter Mali to fight Islamist insurgents

January 14, 2013|By Kim Willsher

PARIS — A column of about 30 French tanks and several troop carriers, accompanied by a helicopter, crossed into Mali from Ivory Coast in an international mission to take control of the African nation’s north from Islamist extremists, French media reported Monday night.

About 550 French troops were in Mali on an operation that the Defense Ministry said it expects to last “several weeks.” France has 6,000 citizens in Mali and is advising them to leave, but has not organized an evacuation.

Tanks had set off from Abidjan and are part of Operation Licorne, the French military force deployed in Ivory Coast since September 2002. 

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said at a news conference in Paris that the military operation is legal but that France has "no intention of acting alone" in Mali.  

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, speaking to journalists in Paris, said he was "satisfied" with the way Operation Serval, as it is code-named, was going. But he acknowledged that there was fierce resistance in the west of the country.

 "There remains a difficult point to the west where we have to deal with extremely well-armed groups," Le Drian said.

On Sunday, French officials said Britain, Denmark and other European countries were helping, along with the United States, which is providing communications and transportation assistance.

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