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France to triple its forces in Mali, defense official says

January 15, 2013|By Kim Willsher
  • French soldiers ride armored vehicles and tanks Tuesday at a military airbase near Bamako, Mali's capital.
French soldiers ride armored vehicles and tanks Tuesday at a military airbase… (Eric Feferberg / Agence…)

PARIS -- France will gradually increase the number of soldiers deployed in the fight against Islamist insurgents in the West African nation of Mali to 2,500, a Defense Ministry official told journalists on Tuesday. 

The report suggests that France was prepared for a larger and longer campaign in its former colony than previously thought.

The official, said to be close to Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, told Agence France-Presse that the buildup of French forces in Mali would be "progressive."

"There will be a gradual buildup to a figure of 2,500," the official told the news service.

French President Francois Hollande had earlier said that 750 French troops were currently in Mali and the number would be boosted by reinforcements.

According to Le Monde newspaper, France is planning to dispatch a substantial contingent of troops at the town of Mopti in central Mali, as a base to carry out operations in the north of the country, the Islamists' stronghold.

Until now, the French government has portrayed France's involvement as limited to halting the Islamists' push south and backing the Malian army's efforts to reconquer and hold the north, with the help of troops from neighboring West African nations. The role of French ground forces were mainly seen as protecting French citizens in Mali's capital, Bamako.

On Sunday, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius had suggested France's involvement in the Mali operation would be mainly aerial and over in a few weeks.

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