NEW YORK: France's vow to battle Islamist militants in Mali ''as long as necessary'' risks plunging the former colonial power into a prolonged campaign.
''It is getting nasty and there will be a chaotic few weeks ahead,'' a senior United Nations Security Council envoy said after Paris officially informed the 15-member body of its decision to act in the African country.
Islamist groups linked to al-Qaeda forced France into the conflict on Thursday by moving out of their bastion in northern Mali into government-held areas.
The militants seized northern Mali last March following a military coup a month earlier, before presidential elections, and have since imposed a brutal Islamic law on the people, raising fears in the West that the region could become a terrorist haven.
France has strongly backed a proposed 3300 African intervention force that the UN Security Council has authorised to help Mali's army reconquer its territory. But political turmoil in government-controlled areas, doubts about the capability of Mali's army and the African force, as well as disputes about international funding for the operation, have all cast a shadow over the efforts.
The French President, Francois Hollande, said his country would take on the Islamists ''as long as necessary'', portraying the conflict as a showdown with terrorism.
''France may now need to take an even stronger hand in the effort against the Islamists and press the rest of Europe and the US to get more involved,'' the UN envoy said.
Britain has already announced it will help transport troops to Mali, while the US provides military training in the country.
Mr Hollande evoked France's national security alert system which requires tighter security for public buildings and the transport network following action in Africa.
His move was the result of a botched French raid in Somalia to free an intelligence agent during which at least 19 people were killed, including two French soldiers. The operation, involving about 50 troops and at least five helicopters, was launched by elite forces of the French DGSE secret service.
France and its allies had planned to spend the first few months of this year rebuilding the Malian army torn apart by the coup. Officials predicted that no offensive could start before September, even though France has urged a faster deployment of the Economic Community of West African States troops.
Mali's coup leaders have retained a strong influence over the interim government that took over last year.
But the country's weak army has proved no match for the Islamists and melted away when the rebels launched their new advance last week, causing serious concern for countries in the region and overseas.
The US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, raised fears about Mali's army at an emergency Security Council meeting on Thursday. ''One of the things we discussed is the extent to which the Malians are ready and willing to defend their own country,'' Dr Rice said afterwards.
Agence France-Presse, AAP