French tanks drive through the West African state of Mali. The imperialists are occupying and bombing the country to seize control of oil, uranium and gold., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Aid Pledged to Mali as More Troops Deploy
U.S.Offers Transport and EU Promises
Training, as French Face Surprise Attacks and Seek Reinforcements to Fight Insurgency
By DREW HINSHAW
Wall Street Journal
BAMAKO, Mali—The U.S. and Europe agreed to provide new support for the fight against al Qaeda-backed rebels in Mali as French and Malian soldiers moved into three towns to confront militants who had staged a series of surprise attacks.
The Obama administration agreed to a French request for military transport planes to help move French troops and equipment to Mali but has yet to decide whether to provide surveillance aircraft and tankers to refuel French fighters, U.S. and Western officials said.
Soldiers from Togo arrive at Bamako's airport Thursday. They were among the first West African troops to arrive in Mali to help battle militants.
Also on Thursday, European Union foreign ministers signed off on a 15-month training mission for Mali's army. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he thought some European governments might agree to join France in fighting Malian Islamist rebel groups.
French and Malian troops surrounded the garrison town of Diabaly, inching into a city that had a significant military presence before Islamist rebels on Monday stunned Mali's government by capturing it. French and Malian fighters also moved through the outskirts of Konna, a gateway town to the vast desert north of Mali, conquered last year by a mesh of al Qaeda-backed insurgent groups.
Mali's army also dispatched 250 troops to defend Banamba, a town just 90 miles from Bamako, the capital, said army spokesman Col. Idrissa Traore.
The move was prompted by reports of a 15-car convoy carrying Islamist rebels near the town, he said. Col. Traore said an additional 500 soldiers from neighboring Nigeria would reinforce the town.
Troops are moving around Diabaly and other towns "gently to avoid civilian casualties," said Defense Ministry spokesman Nouhoum Togo.
The joint troop advance aimed to squeeze an enemy that has proved aggressive and unpredictable, signaling the potential for a protracted guerrilla fight.
France launched an air campaign in Mali on Dec. 11 after Mali's government appealed for help putting down Islamist rebels who already control the northern part of the country. In the week since, the militant group al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and others have engaged in urban combat and maneuvered across the country's vast desert north. AQIM also claimed responsibility for seizing foreign hostages at a gas facility in Algeria on Wednesday.
A week into its military intervention in Mali, France has strengthened its ground force to 1,400 soldiers, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Th
The American Air Force transport planes would help shuttle French troops and heavy equipment, including light tanks and armored vehicles, to Mali, according to U.S. and other Western officials.
The US expects to make, at least initially, up to 30 trips with cargo on behalf of the French, the officials said.
"We have some unique airlift capability, and we are working with the French to provide them support in moving troops and equipment," said White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor.
The White House has yet to determine how it will respond to a French request for manned and unmanned surveillance planes as well as tankers that would be used to refuel French fighters in flight. Officials said Obama administration lawyers are still assessing the legal implications of furnishing such support.
The limited U.S. response to the French request reflects White House concern about being pulled into another costly conflict after 11 years of war in Afghanistan. France would pay nearly $20 million to reimburse the U.S. for the cargo-plane deployments, Western officials said.
In Europe, during a special meeting of foreign ministers called to expedite the European response to the Mali crisis, the EU agreed on a force of around 500 noncombat troops, Mr. Fabius said. That includes some 200 soldiers to train Malian soldiers and a protection force of several hundred, EU officials have said.
Mr. Fabius said a number of ministers confirmed their governments would offer transport and other support for the French mission. He said some may send combat troops as well.
"It is completely possible…that other…European countries decide not only to offer logistical support, but to put in place some soldiers," he said.
With most Malian troops already engaged in fighting rebels, questions remained about what the training mission could accomplish. "The issue of training is no more, because they're now in combat," said the African mission's top military leader, Nigerian Maj. Gen. Shehu Abdulkadir. "There's no army that would say its training is up-to-date.…The most important thing to do now is to get on the ground."
Mali's Foreign Minister Tieman Hubert Coulibaly, who attended the Brussels meeting, welcomed the European promise of a training mission but said what is most needed is additional military support.
France expects around 3,000 troops from Mali's West African neighbors to land within the week, though incoming troops have been more of a trickle. From Nigeria, 900 troops will arrive by Saturday, said Nigerian Defense Ministry spokesman Col. Mohammed Yerima, who declined to discuss the role those troops would play.
A small contingent arrived at Bamako's airport on Thursday from Togo, making the tiny nation to Mali's south the second West African nation to dispatch troops.
Generals, however, offer differing accounts about whether the region has hard commitments for 3,300 troops. Some countries, such as Sierra Leone, which is sending 500, want their soldiers serving as reserves, not on the front.
—Adam Entous in Washington and Laurence Norman in Brussels contributed to this article.
Write to Drew Hinshaw at firstname.lastname@example.org
A version of this article appeared January 17, 2013, on page A8 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Aid Pledged to Mali as More Troops Deploy.