A convoy of French tanks rolled towards Mali's restive north on Tuesday as part of a growing Malian-French offensive to retake the region from Islamist rebels. Earlier in the day, France's defense ministry also announced plans to increase the number of troops it has on the ground to 2,500.
France's bold decision to bolster its military presence in Mali came as French President François Hollande was in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for an official visit. Speaking at a press conference in Dubai, Hollande said that France's intervention in the unstable West African country had three main goals.
"Our objectives are as follows," Hollande said. "One, to stop terrorists seeking to control the country, including the capital Bamako. Two, we want to ensure that Bamako is secure, noting that several thousand French nationals live there. Three, enable Mali to retake its territory, a mission that has been entrusted to an African force that France will support."
Hollande added that France would not end its intervention in Mali until the country was "safe."
Speaking at a press conference in Paris later on Tuesday, France's Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian echoed Hollande's comments, as well as praised the military's swift action while outlining France's military strategy in Mali.
"We will continue our airstrikes targeting terrorist groups in the north of Mali...Secondly, we will continue to increase the number of troops deployed in Mali, and thirdly, we are continuing to coordinate with our European partners, who I would like to mention, to accelerate the deployment of African military forces," Drian said.
The defense minister went on to say that as of Tuesday, France had 800 troops in Mali...
On Monday, Paris received unanimous backing from the 15-member UN Security Council, as it continued to launch air strikes in northern Mali against Islamist rebels who control the region.
"All our allies have recognized that France is acting in accordance to international law and the UN charter," French ambassador to the UN, Gérard Araud, told reporters in New York. He insisted that his country's objective was to oversee the "rapid implementation of UN Resolution 2085," which was adopted last month.
Nevertheless, France and Mali remained largely isolated in the war effort.
French and Malian soldiers on the frontline were still waiting for the deployment of a promised 3,300-strong multi-nation African force.
Army chiefs representing members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) were meeting in Bamako, and a Nigerian army spokesman said that the first soldiers from a 900-strong Nigerian force joining the Mali offensive would arrive within 24 hours.
Benin, Ghana, Niger, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Togo have also said they would send troops, but France's Hollande said it would take at least a week before they landed in Mali.
READ FULL SOURCE ARTICLE: 01/16/2013
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