France: hostage crisis justifies Mali action

President Hollande says Algeria crisis justifies Mali intervention as French contingent in former colony reaches 1,400

    Francois Hollande, French president, has said the on-going hostage crisis in Algeria is evidence that France's military intervention in Mali is justified.

    Speaking to business leaders in Paris on Thursday, Hollande said "What's happening in Algeria provides further evidence that my decision to intervene in Mali was justified."

    Hollande's statement comes hours after the contingent of  French troops in the West African nation reaches 1,400. That number represents more than half the total of 2,500 it plans to deploy in its former colony, Jean-Yves Le Drian, defence minister, said.

    The soldiers have been sent to the West African state as part of an operation against al-Qaeda linked groups who are in control of the north.

    Troop numbers have risen quickly since the first French forces were deployed on January 11 after armed groups seized the town of Konna.

    On Wednesday, French troops began direct ground combat against fighters belonging to al-Qaeda-linked groups, including Ansar al-Dine.

    Ansar al-Dine fighters and their Tuareg allies occupied northern Mali in April 2012

    The Malian army, backed by French troops, was still fighting to retake Konna on Thursday.

    The French are also involved in a battle for the town of Diabaly, which is within government-controlled territory and was seized by fighters on Monday in a counter offensive launched after the first French airtrikes around Konna.

    International support

    The first 200 troops of the 2,000-strong contribution pledged by Chad to the African force in Mali have left N'Djamena, a senior military official said on Thursday.

    "Two hundred Chadian special forces left N'Djamena last night," the official told the AFP news agency on condition of anonymity, adding that the contingent was currently at a military base in Niger.

    Meanwhile, Western nations have offered to help France logistically, but have stopped short of pledging to send combat troops.

    During a meeting of European foreign ministers in Brussels on Thursday, the EU approved sending 450 to 500 non-combat troops, half of them trainers, to Mali as quickly as possible. 

    "The Dutch government supports the French action in Mali," said Frans Timmermans, Dutch Minister for Foreign Affairs, at the meeting.

    "It was necessary, to make sure that Mali will not be overrun by Jihadist terrorists and the next stage would be for the EU doing its utmost to make sure that the UN-mandated mission in Mali can become a success."

    No combat role is envisioned for the EU training mission.

    While the US takes the fight with al Qaeda-affiliated fighters in Mali "very seriously," according to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Wednesday, it has not yet agreed to provide assistance to the French-led mission.

    Panetta added that Washington is considering how to best offer its support for the foreign intervention, adding that, "I'm confident that we're going to be able to provide that assistance."

    SOURCE: Agencies


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