Mali: US airlifts French forces

French and Malian troops are reported to have entered the key central Malian towns of Diabaly and Doutenza, routing the jihadist forces that had taken power there. "The goal is the total reconquest of Mali," said French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. "We will not leave any pockets" of resistance. US Air Force C-17 transport planes have completed five flights from bases in France into Bamako, delivering 80 troops and more than 120 tons of their equipment, according to Pentagon press secretary George Little. It could take the Pentagon two weeks to transport the entire 600-member French mechanized infantry unit and all of their gear, according to Pentagon officials. Michael Battle, US ambassador to the African Union, emphasized: "Our support of French operations in Mali does not involve what is traditionally referred to as boots on the ground... We don't have any plans to put [boots] on the ground at this time in support of French operations."

One Canadian C-17 is also involved in the effort. The French Mirage fighter planes that opened the campaign with air-strikes were based in Ndjamena, Chad, while French special forces troops in attack helicopters flew to Mali from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. A West African force—made up of some 3,400 troops from Senegal, Benin, Togo, Niger and Burkina Faso, led by a Nigerian force of 900 soldiers—is said to join the effort by early next week, but questions still remain about their readiness. Chad has also confirmed it will send 2,000 troops.

Mali's mainstream Islamic leaders have praised the French-led military effort. ''The intervention of France in Mali has nothing to do with a fight against Islam,'' Mahmoud Dicko, president of the Islamic High Council of Mali, told reporters in Bamako. ''It is a fight against crime and terrorism.''

The International Committee of the Red Cross says at least 500 have been displaced by the fighting since the French mission began, and it preparing to bring resources to meet their needs, having established offices in Mopti and behind rebel lines in Gao. (SMH, Jan. 24; Al Jazeera,  WiredNYTMSN, Jan. 22; Mail & Guardian, South Africa, Jan. 18; ICRC, Jan. 16)